Group Seeking To Build Consensus On Multi-Faceted Project Near Mall

A push is underway to switch on the footlights for a performing arts center, office lighting for businesses and perhaps the subdued glow of a rooftop restaurant on 10 acres owned by the Village of Wellington near the Mall at Wellington Green.

What is dubbed Project Lighthouse, supported by a group of resident activists, imagines an arts center with a theater, executive offices, potential high-end residences and retail woven together on the site. A discussion is scheduled for a Wellington Village Council workshop on Thursday, Feb. 16.

“We’ve been trying, for lack of a better word, to get out the vote,” said the group’s representative, Steven Traynor. “It’s been taking on a life on its own, which is fantastic.”

Traynor, a software executive who has lived in Wellington since 2003, said that his group does not represent any developer and is not paid, but wants to demonstrate support in the community for such a plan.

If it chooses to proceed, the village could move forward with seeing what proposals might be out there to build and manage such properties quickly. The Project Lighthouse group’s goal is to give prospective builders and operators some confidence that people really want such a project.

Some organizations involved in the arts say they are watching closely.

“We’re super-excited,” said Jaycie Cohen, founder and artistic director of Theatre Arts Productions, which offers classes and puts on productions locally. “We’ve been looking for a permanent home for about three years.”

Her nonprofit theater company uses Wellington Community Center space and puts on shows at Wellington High School but would be intrigued by a possible home base with a theater on site, she said.

Wellington has plenty to sort out on its wish list in 2023. The village is phasing out its Lake Wellington Professional Centre office complex with no obvious replacement in sight. There are yearnings in some quarters for an arts center, but also concerns it might not generate enough revenue to thrive year-round. Discussions about a village “downtown” of the future often revolve around whether that realistically means the Mall at Wellington Green.

The Project Lighthouse plan seeks to make the case that one site can represent a big step forward on all of those concerns.

More than 50 business tenants risk losing their offices by year’s end at the Lake Wellington Professional Centre, as the village moves toward closing the aging facility it bought in 2013, instead of making expensive renovations.

Mayor Anne Gerwig has said she wants to explore retaining village ownership of the 10-acre park site while offering long-term leases to developers, though various parties are gathering information about possibilities involving either a land sale or lease.

Village officials have talked about keeping an eye on the long-term implications of what they choose. The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, for example, has attracted a business and professional community around it and formed a gravitational center for the community, Gerwig noted at the Jan. 10 council meeting.

Wellington does not have advantages such as close access to I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike, she acknowledged, but additional business facilities, as well as a cultural draw like the arts center, could be a “component” to help strengthen the village’s position.

“The mall will at some point become a downtown of the western communities based on the size of it,” Councilman John McGovern said at the meeting. “That is likely to be the end point of the future of that site.”

Comments from members of the public are not planned for the Feb. 16 workshop, but Traynor encouraged residents to monitor the proceedings and take advantage of chances to speak at council meetings, such as the next one scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Office, retail and possible residential development at the 10-acre civic site would mean its future would not be tied solely to the ebbs and flows of an art center’s performance, proponents believe.

Some cultural facilities, like the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, benefit from long-term tenants who lease space there, Traynor said.

To maximize its chances to flourish, an arts center could probably use a benefactor, a lead donor who helps it stay financially healthy, he said. Grants from federal and state agencies could help as well, Traynor added.

Gerwig mentioned that she has talked with Lynn Singleton, the founding president of Rhode Island-based Professional Facilities Management, which specializes in helping manage and book performing arts venues around the country. Traynor said his group has reached out for information to PFM as well.

The first phases of the plan could take up to three years with the full project completed in perhaps five or six years. The first step is making clear there are people in Wellington who want to see this happen, Traynor said.

“Right now, at Project Lighthouse, we’re looking to be the voice of the community,” he said.

To learn more about Project Lighthouse, find the group on Facebook by searching “Project Lighthouse – Community Vision.”


    • It is the 10-acre civic site currently known as Wellington Green Park located directly behind the Hampton Inn. It is currently open fields with a parking lot.

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