$4.16M earmarked for East Winter Garden projects in city's proposed 2024 budget
Editor in Chief
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Streetscape design, playground equipment, home repairs and sidewalk and stormwater drainage upgrades are just some of the East Winter Garden projects expected to be funded in Winter Garden's proposed 2024 budget.
Winter Garden’s proposed budget for 2023-2024 includes $4.16 million for ongoing revitalization projects in East Winter Garden. That money is in addition to the $4.2 million already in the 2023 budget for stormwater and water main upgrades, sidewalk improvements and other infrastructure projects.
“East Winter Garden remains the top priority for us,” Winter Garden City Manager Jon Williams told the commission during the city’s Aug. 24 budget workshop.
Budget hearings are scheduled for Sept. 14 and Sept. 28, when the commission will vote to approve the 2023-2024 budget. Little is expected to change from the budget presented during the workshop.
A large chunk of that 2023-2024 budget allotment — $1.5 million — comes from American Rescue Plan Act funds and is designated for the West Orange Boys & Girls Club, to be built at Ninth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, just south of Shepherd’s Hope.
Williams had promised a June gathering of neighborhood residents, business owners and other stakeholders that although only Phase 1 had initial approval , he would request funds during this budget cycle for Phase 2 of the project — an additional 9,800 square feet.
Another $1.25 million will seed an East Winter Garden Legacy Fund to help existing homeowners in East Winter Garden with interior and exterior home repairs.
“These are improvements for houses of people who’ve lived in East Winter Garden, lived there for a long time, that may need some help improving their properties if they have code violations or even just fixing their properties,” Commissioner Mark Maciel, who represents District 3, which includes East Winter Garden, explained during the Aug. 24 meeting.
According to budget documents, the fund will assist 20 homes each year.
The budget also includes $650,000 for reconstructing Tenth and Center Streets and North Street, the heart of this historically Black community. Budget documents describe “hardscape/landscape treatments, widened roads, street parking, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, decorative street light poles, pocket parks with open gathering spaces, an intersection rondell (smaller version of a roundabout) and historical markers throughout to celebrate the rich legacies of the community’s past.”
Designing the streetscapes is a main project focus, Williams told the commission.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency approved $65,540 for the Black-owned landscape architecture firm Murray Design Group to develop the “streetscape conceptual redesign plan.” The Winter Park-based firm has done streetscapes and parks in Eustis and Washington, D.C.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Ramon V. Murray, recently named a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, said his firm helps “communities have a voice” and described the East Winter Garden project as a “wonderful opportunity.”
Williams "conservatively" estimated the streetscape project would be completed within two years.
The city also plans to sink $550,000 into Zanders Park with upgrades planned for “playground equipment, furniture, canopy, fence work and hardscape,” according to budget documents.
Williams said there was $110,000 set aside to engage housing consultants to explore putting city-owned properties in East Winter Garden “into a land trust for the long-term benefit off the East Winter Garden community.” Another $100,000 is budgeted for Habitat for Humanity to continue building affordable housing in East Winer Garden.
The budget also contains a “carryforward,” of $4.2 million. This incluces $100,000 for the city's portion of Orange County's stormwater improvement project, including "water main upgrades and sidewalk improvements," Williams said. In addition, $1.5 million from the city’s stormwater capital budget is also slated for stormwater line upgrades at Ninth and Plant Streets.
“The water mains are being done to improve the safety and water quality along with the pressure in the area," Williams said. "Over time those old galvanized pipes, they calcify, and they lose capacity within a pipe.”
The redesign and build-out of the Dyson family’s Center Street convenience store into a neighborhood gathering spot with a store, restaurant, outdoor seating and parking continues to be a “priority project” Williams said, which will “reactivate the commercial district down at Tenth and Center.” Budget documents pinpoint this project as “the first imprint of visible improvement on Center Street.” $300,000 for this project is included in the carryforward budget from 2022-2023.
“We’re still actively negotiating the grant agreement, working out access and easements and parking agreements,” Williams said during the meeting. "I think we’re very close.” He added that a contractor had been selected “so we’re moving along.”
The city also plans to invest in “way-finding signage” along Plant Street to “further serve to build connection with the East Winter Garden district and neighborhood to foster unity as One Winter Garden and erase the design attributes of the past that created division or separation.”
Williams added the budget included “some excess money that we haven't really allocated for additional capital projects that may be unforeseen.”