The State of the City Luncheon, co-hosted by the City of Winter Park and the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce, took place on Friday afternoon at The Alfond Inn. Mayor Steve Leary provided the annual mayoral address, during which he discussed several topics including property values, the City’s budget, private/public projects, and more over the course of the last decade. The mayor’s speech was followed by other items including the presentation of several awards.
Mayor Leary kicked things off on a positive note: “Winter Park is in tremendous shape.”
From 2010 to 2020, the taxable value of Winter Park property grew by 69% to $6.6 billion. Increasing property values, Leary said, are good for both individuals and the City’s budget.
Winter Park’s General Fund budget grew by 41% over the last decade. During that time, the City’s millage rate did not increase. Additionally, the amount in the General Reserve (or Rainy Day) Fund went from $6.7 million in 2010 to $16.8 million in 2020.
Leary said property values are expected to increase next year by 5% to 7%.
“This does not happen in the middle of a pandemic,” he said in his speech. “This does not happen due to any decisions that we made in 2020. But it will happen in Winter Park. Yes, it will happen because of our sound fiscal management over the past decade and beyond.”
Public / Private Projects
Leary noted a number of public and private projects completed since 2010, including: The Winter Park Golf Course, the Community Center, Denning Drive, several new hotels and major retail chains, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, the Fairbanks sewer extension, quiet zones at railroad crossings, the Lee Road extension, the SunRail and Amtrack station, and more. For at least nine of those projects, Leary pointed out that the City sourced more than $35 million in public and private funds outside of the General Budget.
In addition to the fiscal and developmental growth Winter Park has sustained in the past decade, Leary made note of community programs both introduced and strengthened.
The Urban Forestry Management Plan added 3,600 new trees to the urban environment since 2014, and crews removed diseased, dead, or dangerous trees.
The City created new affordable housing through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and added significantly to the Historic Homes Registry.
Leary also addressed the City’s efforts in programming for the arts. “We take great pride in our support of the arts,” Leary said. “Within Winter Park, we continue to support our local arts and cultural organizations. While we canceled this year due to COVID, next year we will bring back the Weekend of the Arts.”
Looking to the Future
Mayor Leary detailed two major projects the City is working on for the future. The first is bringing high-speed internet access alternatives, both hard-wired and via Wi-Fi, to residents and businesses
“COVID has made it abundantly clear that our residents and businesses need high speed internet alternatives,” Leary said. “High speed access is no longer a nice thing to have, it is imperative if we are to meet the future needs of our residential and business communities.”
The second initiative is adding parking to the Central Business District. The City’s plan is to create underground parking that is hidden from view.
Leary went on to encourage those who carry Winter Park through its next decade to work with regional partners to bring new business to Winter Park, and to continue seeking outside funding for additional projects.
Additional Items at the Luncheon
In addition to the Mayor’s State of the City address, several awards were handed out at Friday’s luncheon event.
The 2021 Winter Park Mayor’s Founder’s Award was presented to the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation. Since its inception in 1973, the foundation has contributed to nearly 1,000 grants and 100 nonprofits in Winter Park alone. President David Odahowski and Vice Chairman Matt Certo accepted the award.
The City of Winter Park Employee of the Year Award was given to Brenda Moody from the public works department. Moody is the lead construction manager for the new Winter Park Public Library and Events Center, set to open in Fall 2021.
Officer Aaron Stevenson was named the Winter Park Police Officer of the Year. Stevenson was nominated for the award by his peers and supervisors.
The Winter Park Firefighter of the Year was awarded to Firefighter Paramedic David Hughes. This year, Hughes was selected to be one of just four field training paramedics and earned credentialsas a State-Certified Fire Officer.
Watch the entire program on the City of Winter Park’s Website here.