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The City of Arts & Culture

The ever-cosmopolitan Winter Park has a new vision for the future. But, don’t worry. The city plans to keep all the amenities that make it the same charming town you remember.

Developed as a winter resort for wealthy northerners seeking a retreat from freezing temperatures, the City of Winter Park is well-known today for its extensive tree canopy, brick-lined streets, Park Avenue shopping and dining, and beautiful scenery. To ensure that this community continues to be appealing to visitors and residents alike, the city convened several focus groups to come up with a vision for the city’s future. That vision, adopted in 2016, states: Winter Park is the city of arts and culture, cherishing its traditional scale and charm while building a healthy and sustainable future for all generations.

“But if you’ll notice, the first few words of our vision is, ‘Winter Park is the city of arts and culture,’” Clarissa Howard, director of the City of Winter Park’s communications department, says.

With the adoption of the new vision, the city decided to also create the Arts and Culture Subcommittee to enhance and improve awareness of all of the nonprofit arts and culture organizations offering programming within city limits. The city’s communications department acts as a facilitator for the subcommittee, which was formed as a subsection of the city’s Public Art Advisory Board.

“If you look at it, the city is 9-square miles with a population of about 29,000 people,” Howard says. “But within those 9-square miles, we have 18 nonprofit arts and culture organizations in the city. I mean that’s a lot per square mile for a 9-square-mile city.”

To showcase the city’s many arts and culture nonprofits, the Arts and Culture Subcommittee is presenting the first Weekend of the Arts festival that will run Feb. 16 to 19. The occasion will feature events and exhibits at such destinations as the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, the Winter Park Public Library, the Hannibal Square Heritage Center and the Mead Botanical Garden.

The 47.6-acre Mead Botanical Garden is one of Winter Park’s oldest and most beloved attractions participating in the Weekend of the Arts. The garden was named after Theodore L. Mead who was an early Central Florida resident and one of the most distinguished entomologists and horticulturists in his day. It offers visitors a taste of the city’s natural flora and fauna with walking paths, wildlife viewing and scenic views all around.

Howard says one of the best things about the weekend of the arts is it’s all walkable.

“To experience the variety of arts and culture in Winter Park, you don’t have to drive miles and miles,” Howard says. “You can go and in two minutes experience something completely new and different.”

Having such a walkable town is great for events like this because families can all find something to enjoy.

“If the family wanted to split up, part of the family can do one thing while another part does something else and then join up when they would all enjoy it,” Craig O’Neil, assistant director of communications for the city, says. “It’s just so diversified here.”

An attraction often undiscovered by visitors to the area is the city’s nine-hole golf course that underwent a 1.2 million dollar renovation in 2016. Howard and O’Neil suggest visitors to the festival take time to also walk over and enjoy a quick match play.

“You can play nine holes in an afternoon when normally golf takes all day,” Howard says.

Although, the Weekend of the Arts is set to have plenty of folks rediscover Winter Park, any weekend you find yourself in the northeast Orlando area is a good time to explore this city.

“You can fill an entire week with things to do in Winter Park that you can’t do anywhere else,” City Mayor Steve Leary says. “So, we just have a true little gem here in Central Florida.” For a great day in the city, the mayor recommends a walk through Rollins College, a visit to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, and shopping and dining on Park Avenue.

Rollins College, founded in 1885 on the shores of Lake Virginia, has been ranked one of the most beautiful campuses by multiple outlets and most recently by The Princeton Review in 2015.

The Morse Museum houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s work including the artist’s world-famous lamps, windows, jewelry and paintings.

And finally, Park Avenue is always worth a visit. It is the reason Winter Park is sometimes called Orlando’s Little Europe. The street has a worldly flair to it with its shopping boutiques, cafés and acclaimed restaurants that offer tastes of Italy, France, Spain and more.

If you want to get to all of the mayor’s recommendations without having to drive and find parking, Orlando’s SunRail does have a station stop directly on Park Avenue.

Mayor Leary is also a fan of the city’s famed boat tour.

“I know people talk about the boat tour but if you really want to get a different sense of Winter Park, get on the boat and go sit in the middle of a lake and see Winter Park from the lake,” Leary says. “I think it’s really a unique space. Having five lakes connected by canals that intersect the entire city is really kind of a cool thing.”

The numerous recreational lakes are certainly a draw for people who want to relocate to the city, broker and owner of Palmano Group Real Estate, Rich Palmano says. “It’s very sought-after,” he says. “And it’s definitely not inexpensive, but when you look at just the public schools system, you save a lot of money not having to do the private schools, which can offset a lot of the costs in the real estate that you see.”

An added bonus is that there are plenty of afterschool and summer educational experiences for kids in this area, too. One of Winter Park’s most technological forward education camps is Full Sail Labs, which is Full Sail University’s educational program for children in first through 12th grade. Kids in this program are able to explore storytelling, art and technology through filmmaking, coding, animation, gaming, robotics and more.

Palmano says the other reason that many people enjoy Winter Park so much is its overall charm.

“It’s a different atmosphere than any other place in Florida,” he says.

Charted more than 130 years ago, the City of Winter Park has gone from a place that was just for snowbirds escaping winter to a Central Florida must-see and an ideal spot for families to put down roots. With its renewed vision, the city is ready to continue shaping its community into somewhere where residents and visitors alike want to be.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s February 2018 issue.