City commissioners, during their April 12 meeting, revisited a plan to relocate Winter Park Playhouse over a 36,000 square-foot surface parking lot by the south end of the Seven Oaks Park site.
The idea, first introduced by Commissioner Todd Weaver at the March 22 city meeting, was further developed by Mark Adams of Eleven 18 Architecture and Playhouse Executive Director Heather Alexander; both were on hand to present new renderings and answer questions.
The 12,000 square-foot playhouse building concept would be elevated above the parking lot, topping out at 35 feet with an eight-foot clearance for ground parking. It would cover one-third of the lot with elevators and stairs providing access to the second-level playhouse facilities. And proposed solar panel parking lot awnings would provide approximately 220 kilowatts for playhouse operations and the electrical needs of the nearby park. A stormwater exfiltration system would also be installed beneath the lot – a feature not previously possible due to the tentative approval of a parking garage on the site.
During the April 12 meeting, Weaver addressed concerns he has heard from residents opposed to the idea of building on the site. He noted that the plan: does not take green space away from the park, will diminish the parking lot’s “heat island” effect by covering it with the building and the awnings, and provides some parking spaces for the playhouse which currently has none.
“There are some who don’t want to have a building next to the park,” he said. “Nothing we do is a perfect solution – this just looks better than a parking lot, that’s my personal feelings.”
New playhouse sites have been under discussion since the 21-year-old nonprofit announced, in early March, that it was losing its lease. Commissioners previously suggested moving the playhouse into the old library building, but creating the 18-20-foot ceiling height requirements of a theater would drastically extend the construction timeline.
According to Alexander, a lease extension to August of 2024 was recently granted, but the parking lot plan is the only current idea that is possible within the timeframe. Newly appointed Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio asked if the possibility of purchasing the current playhouse building had been discussed with the owners.
“They don’t honor commercial appraisals,” Alexander said, adding that an appraisal-based offer had been refused. “As a nonprofit, we ethically cannot give them more money that what the appraised value is.”
Commissioner Marty Sullivan, Commissioner Kris Cruzada and Mayor Phil Anderson felt the plan had possibilities, but each admitted some concern over the possible cost to the city and the exclusion of other parties that may be interested in using the space.
“I want to keep you guys here,” Sullivan told Alexander. “This is a solution, but we are a long way from dedicating city resources for such a solution at this time.”
DeCiccio reiterated a point previously made by Alexander, that the playhouse would pay for and maintain a new building on its own. “The only city resources that we would be dedicating would be the land,” she said, adding that building ownership would revert back to the city should the playhouse ever decide to vacate.
DeCiccio also agreed that public opinion and input from other businesses needed to be considered. “I do think we need to hear from a wide swath of residents before we make a decision,” she said.
Commissioners unanimously voted to keep the parking lot as-is while construction on Seven Oaks Park begins, opportunities for community input will be scheduled for a later date.