Local entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Goldman has stood up to help our city plan and execute the expansion of green space in Winter Park. I wrote Steve the following letter to encourage his leadership and to make sure the circumstances involving the USPS property on New York Avenue are fully and accurately considered.
November 11, 2009
I am sorry you did not accept my invitation to talk.
I fully support the creation of the Winter Park Green Space Foundation. I elaborate on this below.
All the people of Winter Park will be indebted to you if your group is able to fully fund the acquisition of the USPS property on New York Avenue without using City assets and without exposing the City to unusual risks.
Your fund raising efforts will of course need to accurately represent the circumstances and this is where I want to make sure you have all the facts. It is my hope that you and the City proceed based on the facts, independent of the obvious emotional and political influences.
You made statements in your comments before the City Commission on October 26, 2009 that you may wish to investigate further.
I suggest that you ask your attorney to review the actual contract documents that establish certain rights for the City to acquire title to the USPS land in exchange for constructing specific new facilities for the USPS. You can find what I believe are all relevant documents here beginning on page 187: http://www.winterparkperspective.org/downloads/agd_01_16_07.pdf, but suggest you request copies of the original executed documents to be reviewed by your attorney. (Edit November 19, 2009: the final settlement agreement with the former developers of the USPS property that references the agreement including the city’s “option” rights can be found here: PowerPoint Presentation http://www.cityofwinterpark.org/2005/govt/agd_06_11_07.pdf.)
You stated that we had until February 2010 to “raise a lot of money.” That is the time frame when the City’s rights under the contract with the USPS would effectively terminate. However, I believe you will find that the specific rights under the contract are now moot, regardless of an extension of the existing agreement. I believe you will find that the City’s option under the contract applies only to a single new 23,000 square foot facility located at the “Municipal Complex” at the corner of Morse Blvd and Denning Avenue. Any other location or configuration would require the approval of the USPS. I believe you will find that as a practical matter, the existing contract serves only as a basis for further discussion with the USPS and that the City has no remaining rights unless it commits to constructing a single new facility at the corner of Morse Blvd and Denning Avenue. I believe you will also find that the USPS is free to extend the existing contract and at the same time negotiate with any third party given the control the USPS has over subsequent approvals of plans, the general contractor to be used, and satisfaction with the delivered structure.
With the above said, I believe the scenarios are totally open. It is possible for your group to negotiate directly with the USPS to construct new facilities in exchange for their land, with the charitable group contributing the land when the deed is transferred. It is possible for a developer to negotiate any kind of arrangement with the USPS and the City and your group, perhaps with the aim of developing the North acre of the current USPS property and turning the balance over to the City for use as park. I believe you will find that no meaningful time constraint currently exists and that all options are open.
You stated that the taxpayers of Winter Park have already paid $3.7 million to acquire this option. I believe you will find that consideration for the option is limited to constructing a new 23,000 square foot facility for the USPS located at the “Municipal Complex” at the corner of Morse Blvd and Denning Avenue. I believe you will find that the $3.7 million was paid to Central Park Station Partners in exchange for dropping their claims against the City and has nothing to do with the option. I believe this distinction will be important to the credibility of any fund raising effort.
You stated that we have already raised $1.6 million. If you have not already done so you may wish to request the list of donors to the original “HOPE” campaign and validate terms under which each pledge and existing cash contribution will endure. Different donations may constitute reliable commitments under varying circumstances (for example, turning the entire property into park or not). The last information I had from the City showed the $1.6 million included $1.3 million in non-binding pledges and the City would be obligated to return any cash on request.
My final thoughts concern the general topic of park space. I totally agree with your description of the value of park space at the October 26 commission meeting. I have reason to believe that a great majority of Winter Park residents and taxpayers agree with us, and are prepared to pay “extra” for wise acquisition of new park land.
I refer you to the 2008 resident survey: http://www.cityofwinterpark.org/Pages/Government/City_Info/City_News.aspx. Under “willingness to pay for projects:” 66% support renovating and improving existing park facilities, 50% support acquiring new park land, and 28% support building a new post office. Also keep in mind that the City Commission has the power to put the construction of a new post office and acquisition of existing USPS land to the voters but has chosen not to do so.
Perhaps members of the City Commission have concluded that citizens understand that paying something like $5 million for an acre of park may be excessive in light of alternative uses of such funds. For example, public records show that the 5.5 acres of parcels known as “Progress Point” on Orange Avenue were acquired in June 2008 for commercial purposes for $6.1 million, or $1.1 million per acre. In today’s environment it may be more productive and provide more meaningful long term benefits to seek out large parcels for new park space than to focus on one acre of the USPS property.
This is where I get to my support for the Winter Park Green Space Foundation.
The City of Winter Park should acquire new park land to solidify its standing as the most desirable city in central Florida. I believe the voters of Winter Park will approve borrowing money for wise park land acquisitions. In this case “wise” means; purchase at or less than market values, cost effective in directly benefiting the largest number of people, proximal to existing residential areas, and providing buffer between existing residential areas and non-residential areas.
The Winter Park Green Space Foundation can be a leader in pursuing these objectives, providing supplemental funding that will help secure the votes of the citizens needed to fully fund wise park acquisitions.
I hope we can talk sometime.
Regards, Pete Weldon
700 Via Lombardy
Winter Park, FL
PS – As a former singer-song writer, music lover, and long term supporter of our symphony I want to thank you for all you have done to further the arts in central Florida.