Six months after landlords notified Winter Park Playhouse of their intent to sell its 711 N. Orange Ave. address, the future of the 22-year-old nonprofit remains uncertain.
“We’re still in limbo,” Playhouse Executive Director Heather Alexander told the32789. “We’re hoping for Tourist Development Tax (TDT) funding to purchase our building, but talks about new construction seem to have fallen off.”
Relocation efforts were set in motion when Alexander brought the matter before city leaders during their March 8 meeting. She cited the playhouse’s $1.9 million economic impact as a reason for City Commission to help find a new location, and stated that the Playhouse Board would be able to raise funds for new construction. “We welcome 30,000 guests each year,” she said. “Many of them are introduced to the city for the first time.”
The first proposal focused on a half-acre activation space within Seven Oaks Park (then, Progress Point) that previously was approved for development. While the public was in favor of saving the playhouse, many residents voiced their desire to keep the park as a greenspace with no new construction.
The idea of building a new playhouse in the former Winter Park library building was also brought up, but the renovations necessary to meet the 18-20-foot ceiling height requirements of a theater all but disqualified the option.
During the March 22 city meeting, Commissioner Todd Weaver proposed the construction of a new playhouse facility over the Palmetto Avenue parking lot, adjacent to Seven Oaks Park. Renderings and a more detailed plan were presented at the April 12 commission meeting, but discussions surrounding a previous plan for a parking garage on the site eventually led to the city’s proposal to negotiate the purchase of the playhouse building and grant a long-term lease.
As a 501(c)(3), Winter Park Playhouse cannot pay above market value for a property. The current asking price for the playhouse building is $4.25 million – approximately twice the appraised value. According to Alexander, the city would apply for TDT funding in the $2 million to $10 million range. She adds that the Playhouse Board is planning a capitol campaign, and additional funds from the county’s $500,000 Cultural Facilities grant would also be available.
“The best-case scenario for the longevity and financial stability of a nonprofit is to be partnered with a municipality,” she said. “Even if we could just go off and buy a building on our own, we would no longer be eligible for grant money to maintain and repair it. It’s not like a for-profit business that can raise rates to cover costs, we want to remain accessible and affordable.”
According to City Manager Randy Knight, an application for TDT funds has been submitted, and the proposal for new construction has not been discounted. “The option for the playhouse to relocate to Seven Oaks Park is not off the table,” he said. “But the city is focused on the TDT option first.”
Alexander is committed to finding an interim playhouse location if a permanent home is not ready by the end of the August 2024 lease extension, but hopes it won’t be necessary.
“It’s too soon to secure another location when we might not need one, but we’re very optimistic about the future. We’re just going to keep moving ahead.”