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City officials lobby for fed land

Isaac Babcock

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Winter Park is a step closer to converting its post office into more parkland. The City Commission voted on a resolution supporting the plan on Monday, and on Tuesday, Feb. 2, commissioners will head to Washington, D.C., to try to lobby for funding and land for the project.

The United States Postal Service Winter Park Office currently occupies the portion of land just northwest of the city's Central Park, including a distribution center.

The Commission has been in talks for more than a year about possibly combining that distribution center with the one on University Boulevard and bulldozing part or all of the post office to clear land to expand the park, but had been stalled in the past.

The estimated $4 million the city will need to complete the project has yet to be raised, but the Commission has pushed the issue forward anyway. More than $250,000 has been raised by private donations, and $1 million was pledged for the park.

Last week the city got a push by developer Dan Bellows, who spoke to the Commission about a plan to build a new post office on West Lyman Avenue. He said he could do it for $4 million, if the city acts soon.

"This is the time for the city of Winter Park to achieve many of their goals that were truly unrealistic five years ago," Bellows told the Commission. "Now is the time."

If Bellows were to succeed in his plan, Central Park would expand by more than two acres, as opposed to one acre that would have been freed up were a previous post office move green-lighted by the city. That would have moved the office's distribution center to the intersection of Denning Drive and Morse Boulevard, and moved the retail side of the office to the north end of the current property.

Bellows' new plan would free up the entire plot of land currently occupied by the post office.

But Commissioner Beth Dillaha said that plan won't come to fruition.

"Due to the size of it and the constraints of it, it just won't work," Dillaha said. "I thought it was a great idea on Dan's part, but it just wasn't feasible."

Commissioners will fly to the nation's capital Tuesday to ask permission to use the property when the post office vacates the area or consolidates its distribution center with the one on University Boulevard.

Dillaha said she's optimistic about the city's chances.

"The government very often gives properties to counties and municipalities," Dillaha said. "The government gave the naval training center to Orlando, and that was a huge area. This is just two acres."