Residents and city leaders gathered in Winter Park Events Center Grand Ballroom on the morning of Friday, Feb. 17, for a free community event that featured the 2023 State of the City address. Attendees were able to mingle and visit with city department representatives at information booths.
This is the first year the address was presented during a community event, the State of the City Luncheon will take place on Feb. 24 at the Alfond Inn.
During his address, Mayor Phil Anderson cited the current General Reserve of $18 million and the balanced city budget, stating that it was made possible without an increase in the millage rate. He also recognized the people of Winter Park – those who work for the city, and the residents – for contributing to the values that make the city strong.
“We look at priorities based on the values of our residents,” he said, referring to a 2016 resident survey on the most important values that Winter Park embodies. Anderson said the top three: history and heritage, the small-town feel, and a proactive plan for the future were, “the values that guide our priorities.”
History & Heritage and Small Town Feel: Anderson discussed strengthening these priorities by keeping the charm and scale of the community while investing in park projects that include the Community Playground and Ward Field upgrades, and Progress Point. He also cited successes in public safety that include the city’s police and fire departments maintaining the top response times in Central Florida, and cooperative efforts with the Fix426 community organization to improve traffic safety.
Proactive Plan for the Future: Anderson cited the city’s focus on reducing its carbon footprint and maintaining energy efficiency through the passing of the Winter Park Sustainability Plan. He also mentioned new investments in flood prevention and upgrading storm preparedness plans, and successful efforts to improve the economic strength of the downtown area that resulted in:
- Office occupancy growth from 95.6% in 2021 to 96.4% in 2023
- Retail occupancy growth from 94.9% in 2021 to 97.7% in 2023
- Park Avenue’s acceptance into the Florida Main Street Program
The Mayor’s Founders’ Award was presented to Habitat for Humanity of Winter Park-Maitland co-founder Hal George. A Winter Park resident since 1972, George founded Parkland Homes and Parkland Real Estate, that has since become Premier Sotheby’s International Realty.
“He did that to make a life for himself,” said Anderson. “But he’s also made a life for many other people, he’s changed lives.”
George has built more than 57 Habitat houses for people who would otherwise not have been able to afford their own home. He is also Chair of the Winter Park Housing Authority and helped build the Westside Community Center.
“I think this award represents a lot of people, I am no solo act,” said George during his acceptance speech as he thanked volunteers, his fellow board members, and members of the community.
After the presentation, the City Commissioners in attendance were asked to state their top priorities for the rest of their respective terms.
Commissioner Marty Sullivan said he wants to improve efforts to integrate city boards into the process of making decisions. He also intends to improve traffic and transportation by prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle safety, and improving public transit.
Improving the city’s infrastructure is Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio’s top priority. She mentioned stormwater management and the condition of roads as vital areas to focus on. She also wants to improve traffic safety, connectivity, and broaden the city’s efforts toward sustainability.
Commissioner Kris Cruzada wants to complete capitol improvement projects, including electrical utility undergrounding and park projects, that have been on the books for a number of years. He also wants to encourage the city to prioritize capitol improvement projects involving infrastructure, and increase General Fund reserves in anticipation of more competition for federal money. He also stated that city employees should be more of a priority, and wants to focus on retaining talent and improving succession plans.
Vice Mayor Todd Weaver was not present.
The event also featured the annual Winter Park Employees of the Year Awards presentations:
Stephanie Silva, of the Events and Marketing Department, received the City of Winter Park Employee of the Year Award from Communications Director Clarissa Howard.
Fire Chief Dan Hagedorn presented the Winter Park Firefighter of the Year Award to Engineer/Paramedic Travis Tacner.
The Police Officer of the Year Award was presented to K-9 Officer Kyle Burkhart by Police Chief Tim Volkerson.