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Winter Park City Commission remains unsure what should become of former library

What to do with the old Winter Park library remains an open book after the City Commission on Wednesday rejected a lease offer from a company proposing to redevelop it into co-working office space with a cafeteria and health services on the ground floor. Here's the latest rendering showing Harbert Realty Services plans for the building.

What to do with the old Winter Park library remains an open book after the city commission on Wednesday rejected a lease offer from a company proposing to redevelop it into co-working office space with a cafeteria and health services on the ground floor.

The commission wants to use a workshop later this month to, once again, hash out ideas for the city-owned property just off Park Avenue and the abandoned three-story building that sits on it.

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Near the end of a 90-minute discussion, Mayor Phil Anderson said that tearing down the old library, located beside the Alfond Inn, might be the best option at this point.

It’s also possible that the city could use the workshop to renegotiate lease terms or re-use ideas with Harbert Realty Services, the company that placed the only bid last summer to redevelop the property in adherence to strict city guidelines.

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Harbert, which is based out of Birmingham, Alabama but has an office in Winter Park led by Damien Madsen, proposed investing $14.5 million into an extensive renovation project for a building that its leaders say is out of code and doesn’t meet today’s ADA compliance standards.

Staring down such an expensive overhaul, the company offered to pay the city $3.7 million over 20 years, or an average of $182,230 per year, as part of a ground lease agreement.

City staff, however, opposed that arrangement. They offered up a deal that, at minimum would see Harbert Realty handing over $7.3 million in rent to the city over the lifespan of a 20-year lease term.

The commission followed a city recommendation to deny Harbert’s offer.

Madsen came into the meeting prepared for that outcome, and during his presentation to the commission, laid out other options that involve the construction of a brand-new building on the property.

At the commission meeting Wednesday, Damien Madsen with Harbert Realty Services discussed tearing down the old library and building a new structure. Here's one of the renderings he presented.

“We can build this building for less money than we can renovate the existing building,” he said while presenting several renderings of what that new construction could look like.

He noted that a new design could also implement additional parking — a shortage on the site that troubles commissioner Sheila DeCiccio.

Madsen made a plea to the commissioners ahead of their vote on the lease agreement: “If you don’t approve it, I hope you will entertain ideas for what we can do with the property if we tear it down and rebuild. Conceptually, if we need to go in a different direction we are prepared to do that. We want to move ahead with what we’ve created, but I’m here to try and get something done.”

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Mayor Anderson said that he’d like Madsen to attend the workshop to see if they can come to an agreement.

“If we end up going down a path that aligns with this team, then it accelerates our ability to find a deal,” Anderson said.

Given what Harbert expects to invest in the redevelopment project, he added that demolishing the building isn’t out of the question.

“I think we have proven in the marketplace that the building has no economic value There is no value to this building. It costs more to fix it than to” rebuild, Anderson said. “It’s better and more valuable as vacant land. I think when we go (into this workshop) we don’t have to make a decision. We can choose to tear down the building, plant grass, and land-bank until we make a decision about what we do want to do with it.”

Since before the new Winter Park library opened on Morse Road in December of 2021, city officials have pondered what to do with its now-vacant 43-year-old predecessor.

Hoping to see a new use for the deserted three-story structure located a short walk from Park Avenue, the city put out a request for proposals in April, giving interested parties a month to place bids detailing their vision.

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The former Winter Park Library building sits empty adjacent to the construction site of The Alfond Inn at Rollins expansion, photographed Thursday, April 14, 2022. The Winter Park City Commission is seeking proposals from developers to redevelop the 35,000-square-foot building that was originally constructed in the late 1970s. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel)

However, the city made it clear at that time they didn’t want to see the building razed; they didn’t want it converted into an apartment building; they didn’t want anything that would draw too much traffic to the area since the parking lot was so small, with only 68 spaces.

What they received was the one lone bid from Harbert Realty Services and a team consisting of Birmingham-based contracting firm Brasfield & Gorrie and Orlando-based architecture firm HuntonBrady.

Their proposal is to convert the top two floors into a co-working space — a place where people can work, network, exchange ideas, hold meetings, etc. A cafeteria providing healthy menu options would move into the bottom floor along with a number of health services.

The extensive scope of work proposed by Harbert involves the installation of a new elevator, a new stairway, and extra windows to let in more natural light. Every inch of flooring would be stripped and replaced. New interior walls will go up. The bathrooms would be completely redone in order to meet ADA compliance. An outdoor gathering spot would be created near the entrance of the cafeteria with tables, chairs, and benches beneath the shade of large trees.

Under the current proposal from Harbert Realty Services, the bottom floor of the former library would be transformed into a nutritional cafeteria with multiple health and wellness tenants. The top floors would be transformed into a co-working hub with office and meeting space.

Madsen said he already has letters of intent from two companies ready to lease out the co-working space.

While city commissioners have spoken favorably of the office concept, they have concerns about the cafeteria feature and the amount of traffic it would produce in a residential area.

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“My concern goes back to parking,” said DeCiccio “On the first floor, your concept for health and wellness, those are high-use and there are people in and out looking to park. ...I just can’t see where all of these cars are going to go and it’s going to be a mess.”

Madsen said he’s flexible with how the bottom floor of the building is used.

DeCiccio also mentioned demolition.

“I’m not sure that keeping the existing building is really a good fit,” she told Madsen. “I’m thinking the building has to go, whether it’s you or someone else.

Replied Madsen, “We’d like for it to be us.”

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at (407)-800-1161 or dwyatt@GrowthSpotter.com, or tweet me at @DustinWyattGS. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn


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