A hi-tech educational resource could breathe new life into the city’s old library building. Proposed by the nonprofit SOAR (Saving Our Aerospace Resources), the facility would combine a first-floor museum with a second-floor learning center, and offer a business incubator while also serving as the company headquarters.
The city received the plan during a six-month solicitation period – which ended in November – for new bids in the reuse of the 460 E. New England Ave. property. The building has been shuttered since Oct. 31, 2021, when the library began moving into its 1052 W. Morse Blvd. location. The last proposal under consideration was submitted in 2022 by Harbert Realty Services of Florida. It called for two floors of co-working spaces with additional tenants on the ground floor, but the plan was voted down last year due to financial issues and city commission’s assertion that any new development should benefit the community.
Commissioners voted in June to accept a new request for proposals (RFP) that gave preference to educational and arts-related nonprofits. In May, SOAR was among six organizations to submit letters of interest in reusing the property. According to the city, SOAR Museum is the only proposal moving through the new RFP process.
A post on the SOAR Museum website describes Winter Park as “the perfect launchpad and headquarters for SOAR. Being central to the prestigious Rollins College and community allows us to be more visible and accessible to the students of Rollins, enabling hub innovation, student integration, business incubation, internship opportunities, and more.”
A copy of the proposal, made available to the32789 by the City of Winter Park, includes a petition with 95 signatures in favor of the museum project. Approximately one-third are from Winter Park residents. The proposal outlines the following concept:
- Aerospace museum featuring interactive exhibits and tours led by a live guide and a robot
- Planetarium theater with star ball, video, and full-dome projection systems
- A STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) learning center that would host a space camp program and provide access to an online educational program for grades K through 12.
- SOAR corporate headquarters
- A business incubation program for college students that offers shared conference and office spaces, resource facilities, and mentorship.
Patrons will also be able to visit a “café and gift shop to acquire a beverage, snack, or purchase souvenirs of their visit.”
Commissioners were against high-volume food service options in the building’s reuse, but a coffee shop-style concession area was deemed acceptable. The main objective is to reduce the potential for added parking and traffic flow impacting nearby residents.
The SOAR Museum proposal states that its use “will contribute to both the adjacent neighborhood and Rollins College while being environmentally sensitive to the surrounding residential neighborhood.” Operating hours and traffic flow will be “based on limited parking but encouraging drop-off and school bus shuttling.”
Documents also state that the 43-year-old building will be accepted as-is and include a summary of renovations, which the city will not be responsible for financing.
The exterior will be “painted to compliment the architectural colors of the neighborhood.” The existing interior would be renovated “to meet the current standards for safety codes and occupancy.” And ADA compliant bathrooms, ramps, doors and elevators, and eco-friendly LED lights would be among the additions. The museum would consist of “plug and play” modules that are custom-fitted to accommodate the space while allowing for periodic changes.
A proposed 60-year lease term includes five, 10-year options with an initial $125,000 lease payment that would double after five years. A 5% increase would then be applied at every five-year interval. The proposed terms also include the right to purchase the property after five years and a right of first refusal if the city opts to sell.
Commission has often stated its intention not to sell the property and Mayor Phil Anderson previously voiced a preference “to have a very short-term lease.” SOAR Museum president and CEO Gary Duce has not responded to a request for comment.
The process will continue with discussions and community hearings that will be scheduled in the coming weeks. The next commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 10. For a schedule of upcoming city meetings, go to cityofwinterpark.org/meetings.