The Village of Wellington conducted a Council Directions Workshop on Wednesday, Aug. 9, and among the key topics of discussion was how to take the area around the Wellington Municipal Complex and the Wellington Community Center to a new level with its waterfront facilities.
“We could look at this in three or four different directions,” Project Director Mike O’Dell said. “How do we bring the waterfront to our village, and how do we activate that? We could also engage the rest of the complex here, and how we look at bringing those pieces together. Finally, we can look at bringing in the commercial areas and how we might engage those activities, as well.”
Village Manager Paul Schofield told council members that they would be presented with many ideas during the meeting.
“The one thing I think everyone’s consistent about is we want to do a promenade out along the lake,” he said, referring to Lake Wellington.
David Barth, a consultant with Barth Associates, discussed the differences between Wellington’s man-made waterfront area and the waterfronts of similar cities.
Wellington’s lakefront park is about 26 acres with approximately 900 linear feet of waterfront. It is comparable to the Kissimmee Lakefront, he said.
One of the largest hurdles for the waterfront is that there are barriers along it. Each nearby location — the Wellington Community Center, Scott’s Place playground, the Lake Wellington Professional Centre and the Wellington Amphitheater — is a separate location to travel to.
Adding a fire pit, or more launches, were some of the staff suggestions. However, there is still a great deal of space devoted to parking. A cultural arts center was also suggested.
Mayor Anne Gerwig expressed concern regarding some of the water activities, as stagnant, standing water in Florida is not something to swim in.
Lake Wellington and nearby Lake Greenview, Schofield said, were built for fill and water retention.
“To me, that’s K-Park without having to use K-Park. That’s what people want and what they’re asking for,” Councilman Michael Drahos said, referring to Wellington’s long-planned park facility on State Road 7. “Out of the box, creative and game-changing for Wellington.”
Councilman Michael Napoleone said its surface use, with kayaking and paddling, is a good idea.
“It’s opening up the waterfront for people to hang out,” he said. “You can hear the concert from the amphitheater.”
However, the waterfront currently cannot be seen until you’re right there, Napoleone said, and since Wellington is such an outdoor community, with outside activities year-round, the asset is underutilized.
Gerwig suggested running events on the nearby lawn, having some water activities, and seeing if people are interested, rather than spending money changing things, which may or may not be effective.
“I have a fear we could redesign everything for this type of use and we may not have the interaction,” she said, explaining that Okeeheelee Park isn’t used as much as it was expected.
However, Assistant Village Manager Jim Barnes added, Scott’s Place is the most used of Wellington’s 21 playgrounds. The amphitheater became popular over time, though getting people there was slow at first. Now, there are many successful events at the facility.
“It’s location, location, location. We’re in the center of town… It’s where the center of government is,” Barnes said. “We’re trying to get a public space and build upon what we’ve done so far.”
Having an “if we build it, they will come” mentality will create a successful waterfront, Barnes added, noting that the work could be done in phases.
“I think that Lake Wellington is something that most of our residents don’t even know exists,” Vice Mayor John McGovern said. “So, when you say that it is underused, of course it’s underused, because, literally, they don’t even know that it is there.”
Residents, he said, want a place to gather. “They want that K-Park concept, which clearly invigorated lots of people with the ideas and potential of what that could be. I’m not sure K-Park was ever the right place for that, but I think some of that can very well be here,” McGovern said.
Drahos was keen to make changes quickly, rather than gradually. “If we think small, we’ll get a small response,” he said.
Councilwoman Tanya Siskind expressed concern over the lack of connectivity to the area, as well as how difficult it is to find parking when there are food trucks on site, suggesting that if the area was connected, it would be a destination and would have more use.
Napoleone noted that Winterfest uses the area, and coming up in 2018, there will be another large activity, Bacon & Bourbon Fest. He suggested two or three phases, rather than extending the project over 15 years.
Schofield explained that phasing is a necessity. If a promenade is built, that can be done in one phase, but for more, it will become a multi-year project because it will involve owners of buildings, development changes, moving buildings, the possibility of rebuilding or moving the pool and more.
At the low end, Schofield estimated it would cost a few million dollars. On the higher end, he estimated $50 million for redevelopment, including splash pads, restaurants and other amenities.
“I suspect we’re somewhere between the two,” he said.
Parks & Recreation Director Bruce DeLaney redirected the conversation, explaining that the new community center, which is a year old, has been gaining momentum, and it takes time for an amenity to be utilized and integrated into the community.
“I think over the next few months, we’re going to see whether or not that is a site that lends itself to additional types of events,” he said. “We have made it through the first year of the community center, and that has been quite successful… That’s just a logical progression. The discussion that we’re having here today is, do we want to try to enhance and use more of an asset, which is the lake? And if you do, how do you want to go about it?”
More programming, and amenities, will encourage people to use the space, Barth said, explaining that the Kissimmee Lakefront is utilized with birthday parties, spontaneous uses, concerts and programs.
“It’s this layer upon layer upon amenities that make me want to go there,” he said.
Gerwig suggested starting small, offering kayak rentals.
Barnes looked to the Okeeheelee Park model, with concessions, to add to the kayak rentals. Generally, the concerts, movies, community center or pool are used as a one-stop event. Making the area a multiple-stop destination would add to the area.
Food trucks increase attendance to the amphitheater events, DeLaney said, noting that a food vendor would be a good thing.
“Lakefronts are a sense of place,” Barth added.
The council, based on the workshop, has future decisions to make so it can guide staff, including whether to replace surface parking with a parking garage, what to do with the central open space, whether to eliminate buildings to expand the waterfront, whether to move the Wellington Aquatics Complex and more.