Winter Park secures $6 million tourism grant for Canopy project
The ongoing effort by the city of Winter Park to raise funds and build additional features for the upcoming Winter Park Canopy project has taken a major step forward.
Winter Park’s library/event center project was given final approval for a $6 million tourism development tax grant at the Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, April 23.
The decision establishes a key funding source and will help fund portions of the project that pertain to tourism, such as the planned auditorium in the library and the entire events center, including a proposed rooftop venue.
The Orange County meeting on April 23 included input from the public, with many speaking in support of the Canopy.
“My interest in the success of this project and this Canopy is as someone (who) lives in Winer Park and wants to see our city and this region be the home of a world-class events center next to a world-class library designed by one of the leading architects in the world,” resident Lawrence Lyman said. “I am so excited about what the possibilities are for this project — what it means not only for Winter Park but for Orange County.”
Other residents, including Tinker Marsh, weren’t thrilled with the direction the project has taken, particularly in regards to its lack of additional space and the overall design.
“The library won’t be much bigger (than the existing library),” she said. “It’s not really called the library anymore — that’s a deliberate tactic to get folks used to terms like ‘the Canopy project.’ Ironic (because) there was a beautiful canopy of trees cut down. The renderings are ugly, the design did not fit in at all with the surroundings — it’s deemed by many of us as competition for the I-4 eyesore.”
Resident Michael Poole, who spoke against the project, requested that the board deny the grant request because the city doesn’t need that money to build its facility, he said.
“Your money, what does it buy?” Poole said. “It buys a raked floor in the library, it buys an amphitheater — we already have a bunch of outdoor areas for performances — and it buys a rooftop bar. That’s all your money buys. There’s no tourism impact at all here. It’s plain to see.”
Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary said the project itself already has gone through the process of approval and is therefore no longer an issue. He asked the board to focus on the grant application — and that the county help the city fund additional features for the Canopy through the tourism grant.
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“I seem to have to apologize for Winter Park politics entering this chamber — that’s not really what I think we’re supposed to be doing here today,” Leary said.
“The project, the location, the size, parking garage — whether we have it or not, or any other item that the opposition has brought forward … those decisions have already been made, multiple times in support of this project by the voters, the courts and the Winter Park City Commission. I find it interesting that people are concerned about your $6 million, yet we’ve been fighting legal battles for the past three years that have cost the city over $500,000 in legal fees and construction delays. They’re more worried about your dollars than they are about their own dollars.”
Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla questioned the return on investment for a project such as the Winter Park Canopy, which appeared to be relying heavily on weddings as a source of revenue, she said. Bonilla also called into question the Canopy itself and how it didn’t seem like the same project residents approved.
“I don’t think it’s what the people in the area want, and I also feel like it was a bait-and-switch — what was marketed by the library on their website of what this would be and what they voted on is completely different than what they’re getting today,” Bonilla said. “That’s not what I need to consider here, but what I do have to consider is all the things that I had mentioned (about return on investment).”
Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey said intervening so late into the project’s timeline after it has gone through numerous approvals isn’t appropriate.
“They’ve gone through the legal process to determine their own future — for us to come in and to interfere with their determination through a legally-binding and legally-bound election and court hearing is overreach at its best,” she said.
At the Feb. 11 Winter Park City Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight presented the commission with a complete budget that listed various add alternates the city can seek through fundraising and grants, including a porte cochere, a rooftop venue on the events center, an outdoor amphitheater and a raked auditorium in the library.
Howard said the entire project, with all the additional features and enhancements, totals $40.1 million. That would be funded with $28.7 million in net proceeds from voter-approved bonds, the $6 million grant from the county and $5.4 million in community support.