A new events center overlooking Sanford's Lake Monroe is in the early planning stages, and the development could revive city efforts to draw a hotel to its downtown district.
Sanford's Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) – created to spur redevelopment along and near the downtown's waterfront – has commissioned CPH Engineers Inc. to create conceptual plans for a new events center at the southeast corner of Sanford Avenue and Seminole Boulevard.
The site is currently occupied by the 50-year-old Sanford Civic Center. Charles Davis, chairman of the CRA, said the old Civic Center is outdated and would be demolished to make way for a new 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot facility.
"The goal is to create Class A meeting space in downtown Sanford," Davis told GrowthSpotter. "Our current civic center doesn't have the amenities or the space flexibility that event planners look for when booking events."
Three designs were created by CPH. Generally, each option has a 7,500-square-foot ballroom that could be subdivided, and four additional meeting rooms ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet.
The designs also include covered outdoor areas, 1,500 square feet set aside for the Sanford Senior Center, a prep kitchen, storage and pre-event staging areas. About 150 new parking spots would be created under each of the proposals.
The project is still many months from beginning construction.
"We had to get conceptual renderings to determine where we could position the building on the property and how big the building could be," Davis said.
The next step will be a joint meeting between the CRA and the Sanford City Commission to present the conceptual drawings. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12. If there is consensus between the two boards, design and permitting could began in First Quarter 2017.
"In a perfect world, the design and permitting could be done by next fall so we could put it out to bid by the end of 2017," Davis said. "However, we're just starting the process, so it's hard to say what the time line will be."
The CRA estimates the cost to build an events center will be roughly $200 per square foot, or about $5 million. However, that could change depending on amenities, finishes and market prices for materials and labor when the project actually begins. A financing plan has not been determined, but Davis said the CRA has several options.
"We could put money away each year (CRA tax collections are roughly $1.7 million annually), sell bonds, use traditional bank financing or a combination of those options," he said.
A new events center could lead to other development opportunities in downtown. Sanford leaders have long tried to recruit a hotel developer to the area.
In 1996, former mayor Larry Dale lead a push to build a convention center and hotel in Fort Mellon Park. Financing problems and citizen opposition to turning the city's iconic waterfront park into a mixed-use development doomed that plan in 2001.
Downtown has since undergone a revitalization, in large part because of CRA-based infrastructure projects. Property values in the CRA district have more than doubled in the last 20 years, and private developers are proposing residential and mixed-use projects totaling more than $50 million in projected investment. Davis said talk of building a new events center has revived interest in searching for hotel partners.
"With our downtown entertainment district and a new events center right on the water, the time might be right to talk to some hoteliers," he said. "I'm not sure if the market conditions are there just yet, but it would be an interesting discussion."