What is the vital reasoning behind the Jan. 24 action of the Winter Park City Commission’s 3 to 2 ”no vote” to practical thinking and innovation?
It is a sorry state that Mayor Ken Bradley and Commissioners Phil Anderson and Tom McMacken voted “no” on an innovative economic development project for the old state office building at Denning Drive and Morse Boulevard that would utilize a land lease and have an immediate tenant for leasing the entire second floor.
In today’s downtrodden economy, Winter Park taxpayers are losing an eminent opportunity to add to the tax base with no cost to taxpayers. Unbelievably, city and CRA staff provided a negative recommendation for a private sector, revenue-producing facility that would keep 130 professional employees located and working in Winter Park, supporting local commerce, as well as enhancing the western gateway to downtown with a preserved green space tree canopy.
The long-vacant building on West Morse and Denning would have been restored to practical use, transformed into a LEED certified showcase utilizing the latest green research and technology. The uniquely-shaped building, which allows healthful and beneficial natural lighting to its entire workplace, was to become the newly consolidated headquarters of the highly successful firm of Rogers, Lovelock & Fritz (RLF), architects and engineers. For a firm with a treasured community legacy of over 75 years to be driven out of its hometown by city government is a disgrace — and by a 3-2 vote no less!
Will this unique structure now become rubble with a rising cloud of concrete dust filling the air on demolition day? Will taxpayers see an estimated $200,000 for demolition, debris removal and leveling of the site come out of city coffers? What will happen to the on-site tree canopy?
On Jan. 24, I wrote the following to all elected members of the City Commission:
“When I heard of the savvy approach in resolving the long-vacant, derelict site of the old state office building, I was impressed. In the real world, nothing is perfect, but the land lease project is a definite plus for the city in more ways than dollars and cents.
The city wins in many of the ways, which make people treasure living and working in Winter Park. I do not know the details of this discourse. However, as I see Winter Park over 40 years, I wanted to document my thoughts on this particular event:
The western gateway to the city will continue to be lifted out of the doldrums suffered in that area, and fairly quickly. That castoff and forsaken site has stood fallow for too long, even through better economic times! It is a depressing sight, not worthy of Winter Park consciousness.
The continued presence of the globally recognized and community icon, RLF, will shine as a showcase in Winter Park for restoration and preservation. The project surely will draw and attract keen interest to Winter Park in the resulting practical application of environmentally sound LEED-certified technology.
The complex will extend and enhance the visual green space of Lake Island Park, one of the city’s greatest assets on the west side.
The city retains possession of the property, assuring its long-term benefit while restoring it to practical use with a low-density footprint.
Immediate occupancy with upwards of 150 employees of a professional firm is a huge advantage to the city, assuring Winter Park will not suffer the consequences of their loss.
Local commerce will be greatly encouraged and enhanced by the restoration of the site, removing it from the very negative impact caused by the impression of blighted areas within the city’s areas of commerce.
When I see the footprint of all of the other older properties lakeside on U.S. Highway 17-92, I cannot help but wonder what is in store in the future for our city. It is nice to see an opportunity present itself to keep density low with renovation and restoration along with maintaining the tree canopy green space. It is refreshing in our current climate.”
After the defeat of the land lease project, I did take heart with the support documented by the yes votes of Commissioners Beth Dillaha and Carolyn Cooper. I commend them for their foresight and recognition of innovative approaches to the issues of governance for community benefit.
Forty-year Winter Park resident