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Central Park Obsession

There can be no doubt that the historical city plan for Winter Park is the foundation of our unique character and charm. Central Park is the center of that plan, built around the railroad station by design, providing a central focus that defines the commercial core of our city.

David Strong and his most vocal supporters believe that somehow, downtown redevelopment of any kind threatens this history. I don’t get it. Winter Park has gone through multiple generations of change and yet, Central Park remains the well protected focus of our city. The buildings along Park Avenue have been constructed across different eras. The variety of scale, fascade, and even quirky character of the various buildings along Park Avenue define a unique, eclectic environment. Nothing has ever been done to encroach upon Central Park.

Exactly how far do we have to go and how much do we have to spend to “protect” Central Park? What are we “protecting” it from? (I am looking for answers here.)

David Strong got rid of the post office redevelopment by asking the investors how much it would cost to make them go away (not by negotiating a more acceptable redevelopment). He came back with a number of $5,300,000 and claimed he could raise that money privately. No luck. The money did not show up and the investors sued the city. The final tab was a $4,000,000 settlement we are still paying for. How much money was actually raised through donations? The running total is now $356,529.81, of which $100,000 comes from David Strong’s mother (and none from David Strong). The city has also recorded $1,303,325.00 in non-binding pledges (some of which have restrictions that will never be met).

The original story was that the donations would be used to buy out the investors. Now the story is that donations will help defray the cost of building new facilities for the United States Postal Service so we can have an additional one acre of green space.

I would be very happy if David Strong would simply pay for all of this himself so we can have another acre of park space downtown and be done with it. Sadly, however, I believe you and I will be paying a ridiculous amount for this folly if David Strong is re-elected.

David Strong said he is seeking re-election because he has “more work to do.” This work includes finding a way to buy the existing post office property at our expense. In his mind, the $4,000,000 of our money he paid to stop the post office redevelopment is just a down payment on a city commitment to build new postal facilities and assume control of the current post office property so it will never be redeveloped.

He has already said he does not believe the voters will agree to the cost of this. His only other option is to sell the one remaining piece of city owned land worth something. This is the 5 acre parcel on Denning Drive that, in a good market, has been represented to be worth as much as $10,000,000. When this property is sold in a down market and the money used to get us one acre of new park space the city will have no meaningful reserves left (our utility reserves support our bond rating which has already been downgraded by one rating agency).

Last summer I developed a scenario where we could have both more parking and more park space for roughly the same price as buying the post office property and building them new facilities. You might find this of interest, not for the specifics of the scenario, but for the revelation that buying the post office property is ridiculously expensive for what we get in return.

I understand the emotional attachment to the history of our city. I also understand that effective leadership requires objectivity.

Posted in Elections, Parks, Policy.

2 Responses

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  1. Mere Taxpayer says

    I’d like to know the legal costs associated with the Carlisle fiasco. The $4 mill was for the developers. How much have WE spent on attorneys?

    • Pete Weldon says

      I have tried in the past to get this information from the City Manager with no luck. I was told the City Attorney did not keep time sheets on his work related to the post office redevelopment matters. Actually, the cash value of legal fees and other direct expenses of this fiasco pale in comparison to the value of wasted time and focus.

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