Commissioners to Reboot Library Dialogue, Admit Mistakes in RFP Process

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Plans for Winter Park’s former library building will officially go back to the drawing board as City Commission voted to end an exclusive negotiating period for the only proposal submitted for its reuse.

Harbert Realty Services of Florida answered last year’s 45-day request for proposals (RFP) with a plan to rehab the 460 E. New England Ave. property with two floors of co-working spaces and wellness-related tenants on the ground floor. However, the $14 million cost of renovating the 43-year-old building kept Harbert from matching the required $300,000 per year lease payments. Commission voted, on Jan. 11, to negotiate options for Harbert’s proposal while investigating other uses for the building.

During a Feb. 2 work session, commissioners discussed the possibility of converting the former library into workforce housing – an option excluded by the terms of the original RFP. Harbert Senior Vice President and Managing Director Damien Madsen countered by raising the proposed lease payments to $175,000 per year and offered 4,000 square-feet of ground floor space to the city for community use.

The final vote on Harbert’s proposal took place during the Feb. 8 City Commission meeting where Madsen, again, tried to make the case for moving forward with Harbert’s proposal and raised the rent offer to $200,000 per year.

“We followed the rules,” he said of the RFP, which also excluded food service tenants, additional parking structures, sale of the building, and demolition. “Costs have only gone up since we started this process, and interest rates have gone up. That being said, we’re still committed to the project.”

Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio, who previously expressed concerns over the possible impacts of limited parking on nearby residents, reiterated her stance and admitted her hopes for the project were not exactly what was brought forward in the RFP.

“I think part of what this commission is grappling with is; Is this the use we really want for that building?”

Commissioner Marty Sullivan added his sentiments.

“I can’t do anything but apologize for how we apparently rushed this RFP,” he said. “I made a mistake and rushed my own thinking of where to go with that property. I think we may have been too restrictive, and we may have been too rushed.”

Commission voted 4-1 to end negotiations despite Madsen’s last-ditch proposal of a lease termination clause, allowing the city to pay back a portion of Harbert’s investment and reclaim the property after a period of 20 years.

After the vote, Vice Mayor Todd Weaver also expressed regret for the way the first RFP was handled, citing his background as an engineer. “I take total blame that the RFP went out in a short period of time with very little discussion. I should have spearheaded that and I apologize.”

Staff was instructed to schedule a commission workshop for the terms of a new RFP. The process will then restart with public meetings and discussion on how the building will be reused.

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