Blue Bamboo Edges Out Rollins Museum for Winter Park Library Reuse

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After three hours of discussions at the June 12 City Commission meeting, Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts won its bid against Rollins Museum of Art for the use of Winter Park’s former library building. Public comments lasted more than an hour with 22 of the 30 speakers supporting the proposal, which commissioners passed by a 4-1 majority with Mayor Sheila DeCiccio casting the only “no” vote.

Both entities proposed to fully fund their own arts and culture facilities for the gateway property at 460 E. New England Ave. Rollins was aiming for a less costly version of a previously approved museum project and Blue Bamboo had been hoping to stay in the city after losing its previous Winter Park building to rent increases. Blue Bamboo offered a 40-year lease beginning at $132,000 per year with a 2% increase every five years; however, the numbers favored Rollins’ 40-year lease starting at $275,000 per year with 10-year increases based on the consumer price index. Commissioners would later suggest a 20-year lease term for both, but ultimately found more value in Blue Bamboo’s community benefits.

Chris Cortez

Blue Bamboo Executive Director Chris Cortez outlined a plan to utilize most of the existing building with a live performance venue on the first floor. Once complete, the profits, board member support and sponsorships would fund second and third floor renovations for education spaces, recording studios, offices, and art galleries. Upper floors would also be offered to arts nonprofits for a nominal operating fee.

Central Florida Vocal Arts Executive Director Theresa Smith-Levin has advocated for a similar plan to form a local arts co-op. She attended the June 12 meeting and offered her organization’s backing of the Blue Bamboo proposal. “For my part,” she said, “I can confirm that we have grown tremendously and are fiscally solvent to support this project.”

Commissioner Marty Sullivan said he received more than 80 emails supporting the Blue Bamboo plan and reviewed the pros and cons of each proposal: noting Rollins’ financial strength and the community benefits of the Blue Bamboo plan. He also considered the possibility of achieving both. “If Blue Bamboo goes in this property, it will still allow for the Rollins art museum as it is already permitted and planned.”

Commissioner Craig Russell noted the benefits of both projects, and the hope that it would not come down to an either-or decision. “If I had my way I’d wave a magic wand and put Blue Bamboo and Rollins Museum in one big venue,” he said, “with adequate parking.”

Commissioner Kris Cruzada also expressed appreciation for both proposals, but felt Blue Bamboo offered more variety and educational opportunities. “I think we can risk a little bit, think outside the box, and try to provide a better variety of arts and performance venues within this city,” he said.

Public comments against the Blue Bamboo plan centered on possible traffic and parking issues. Rollins pro bono developer Alan Ginsburg, who was behind the development of the museum proposal, also doubted Blue Bamboo’s ability to meet the high cost of renovations and maintaining the three-story building.

Cruzada during his comments asked Cortez to address the proposed building capacity and performance schedule. “This has never been a nightclub or a bar,” Cortez said. “We are projecting at 10 p.m. end time for our shows; if that needs to be earlier to make the neighbors happier that’d be fine with us.” Cortez also assured Commission that daytime rehearsal and class schedules would be managed to reduce overlapping and offered a concession to the anticipated occupancy. “Whatever the capacity needs to be in order to ensure that our parking is adequate, we would accept those limitations.”

Cortez also clarified a point in the proposal that mentioned how certain ADA compliance measures might not be necessary if the building usage did not change according to building code standards. “We think (ADA compliance) can be addressed for a smaller cost,” he said. “Not that it needs to be avoided.”

Vice Mayor Todd Weaver addressed questions about renovation costs with the findings of an inspection he conducted with city staff. Results show the building to be in good condition with fixes needed in the AC system. His report also included $175,000 in building code requirements and ADA upgrades – much lower than the $14 million estimate in a previously submitted proposal from Harbert Realty Services. “You can spend $50 million on a building like this but it’s not necessary to get it up to code,” he said.

With concern for maintaining the property, the cost of additional building upgrades, and the property’s future as a gateway to Park Avenue, Mayor Sheila DeCiccio touted the benefits of Rollins’ museum plan that included its financial stability, free public access, and exterior additions that contrasted with the less extensive Blue Bamboo renovations. She also noted the “traffic and noise” that a live music venue would create. “The residents do not want that in their neighborhood,” she said.

The Rollins Museum proposal included a 5,000-square-foot gallery addition to the library building and new landscaping. Image courtesy of: City of Winter Park

However, DeCiccio spoke in favor of keeping Blue Bamboo in Winter Park and offered a city partnership for TDT funding to finance a new venue, similar to the current city partnership with Winter Park Playhouse. But her motion to approve the Rollins proposal was not seconded and failed without a vote. Russell then made a motion for staff to work with Blue Bamboo on a 20-year lease that was seconded by Cruzada and amended to include additional focus on air conditioning upgrades and accessibility code compliance items that were brought up during discussions. DeCiccio attempted to add an item for a city-assisted search for an alternate location that was not accepted. The motion passed by a 4-1 vote.

The first reading of the updated lease and a discussion of the city’s allocation of payments collected from the lease will happen at the June 26 Commission meeting. Information, agendas, and virtual access are available at

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