Progress Point Renamed, New Playhouse Proposal Emerges

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The public greenspace by the corner of Denning Drive and Orange Avenue has a new name. The city’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board recently gave residents the opportunity to vote for one of three possibilities:

  • Seven Oaks Park – for its seven live oak trees
  • Progress Point Park – the unofficial name
  • Gateway Park – because it’s considered the gateway to downtown Winter Park

A total of 702 votes were received in a survey that lasted from Feb. 24 to March 8, an overwhelming 485 were cast for Seven Oaks Park. City Commission unanimously voted to adopt the name at its March 22 meeting.

A 10 a.m. groundbreaking on Thursday, April 13, will mark the long-awaited start of landscaping, amenities and walkway installations that are expected to be completed by the beginning of 2024.

The stalled progress has been attributed to design changes that went through City Commission for amendments and final approval. However, the delay has not kept the site out of the limelight as a 10,000 square-foot activation space was suggested for the construction of a small business incubator, and more recently as the new home of the Winter Park Playhouse.

The possibility of new construction interfering with the green space plan met with pushback from several residents who also spoke in favor of helping the playhouse relocate within the city. Playhouse Board members are currently in negotiations for a lease extension that would last until August of next year.

The idea of building a new playhouse in the former Winter Park library building has been brought up, but the facility does not meet the 18-20-foot height requirements of a theater. “The old library ceilings are 11 to 12 feet, and we’d have to demolish part of the second floor,” said Vice Mayor Todd Weaver. “I just didn’t think that was a good use.”

The opportunity to relocate the playhouse onto a Palmetto Avenue parking lot, adjacent to Seven Oaks Park, was brought up by Weaver during commission reports at the March 22 meeting.

According to Weaver, a new 12,000 square-foot building would only use 1/3 of the 36,000 square-foot lot, located to the west of the park. It would also fall within the 35-foot height limit for the Orange Avenue Overlay, and would not impact the greenspace.

A diagram shows the location of the Palmetto Avenue lot (in pink) in relation to Seven Oaks Park (at right). Construction on the lot would not take greenspace away from the park. Image courtesy of: City of Winter Park

“Because of the way the site is situated, it’s ideal for solar awnings,” he added, noting that the approximate 220 kilowatts of power that could be generated would be more than enough for playhouse operations and park lighting.

Winter Park Playhouse Executive Director Heather Alexander has previously stated that the city would not be saddled with the expense of the relocation. If an available space was found, the nonprofit would sign a long-term land lease with the city and foot the bill for new construction.

Weaver conceded that building on the lot would eliminate a proposed parking garage, but later added that the desirability of the garage was limited due to its height and the lack of revenue from a non-metered parking facility.

Commissioners voted to continue discussions at their April 12 meeting, and to add the new proposal to the agenda of an April 13 work session.

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