Sanford leaders are considering a plan to build a new events center overlooking Lake Monroe, a move some think could bring a hotel developer to downtown.
The Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) commissioned CPH Engineers Inc. to create conceptual plans for a new event center at the site currently occupied by the nearly 60-year-old Sanford Civic Center. Charles Davis, chairman of the CRA, said the Civic Center is outdated and would be deolished to make way for a new 20,000- to 25,000-square-foot facility.
“The goal is to create Class A meeting space in downtown Sanford,” said Davis. “Our current civic center doesn’t have the amenities or the space flexibility that event planners look for when booking events.”
Three designs were created by CPH. Generally, each option has a 7,500-square-foot ballroom that could be subdivided and four additional meeting rooms ranging from 500 to 1,000 square feet. The designs also include covered outdoor areas, 1,500 square feet set aside for the Sanford Senior Center, a prep kitchen, storage and pre-event staging areas. About 100 new parking spots would be created under each of the proposals.
The project has yet to be approved by either the CRA or the City Commission.
“We had to get conceptual renderings to determine where we could position the building on the property and how big the building could be,” said Davis.
The next step will be a joint meeting between the CRA in the Sanford City Commission to present the conceptual drawings. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12. If there is consensus between the two boards, design and permitting could began in the first quarter of 2017.
“In a perfect world, the design and permitting could be done by next fall so we could put it out to bid by the end of 2017,” Davis said. “However, we’re just starting the process, so it’s hard to say what the timeline will be.”
The CRA estimates the cost to build and event Center will be roughly $200 per square foot to build, or about $5 million. However, that could change depending on amenities, finishes and market prices for materials and labor when the project actually begins. A financing plan has not been determined, but Davis said the CRA has several options period
“We could put money away each year (CRA tax collections are roughly $1.7 million annually), sell bonds, use traditional bank financing or a combination of those options,” said Davis.
A new event center could lead to other development opportunities in downtown. Sanford leaders have long tried to recruit a hotel developer to downtown. In 1996, former mayor Larry Dale lead a push to build a convention center and hotel in Fort Mellon Park. Financing problems and citizen opposition to turning the city’s iconic waterfront park into a mixed-use development doomed that plan in 2001.
Downtown has since undergone a revitalization, helped in part by CRA-based infrastructure projects. Property values in the CRA district have more than doubled in the last 20 years, and private developers are proposing residential and mixed-use projects totaling more than $50 million. Davis said talk of building a new event center that could attract weddings, events and business meetings has revived interest in searching for hotel partners.
“With our downtown entertainment district and a new event center right on the water, the time might be right to talk to some hotielers,” Davis said. “I’m not sure if the market conditions are there just yet, but it would be an interesting discussion.”