Winter Park Resort pulls out of local workforce housing project
After over a year of conversations between the town of Winter Park and Winter Park Resort, the resort is pulling out of a proposed seasonal workforce development, known as Dimmit II, to consider other options.
The Dimmit II project was proposed to be a 27-unit seasonal workforce housing development, located on Lions Gate Drive behind Fontenot’s Seafood and Grill, that would be master leased, at least in part, to Winter Park Resort. Concerns about who would occupy the rooms in the summer when the resort houses fewer employees and a need for more beds in the winter than the development could provide, however, ultimately made Dimmit II unviable for the resort.
“After collective and extensive discussions with all the stakeholders involved in this project, it has become evident that the Dimmit II initiative, due to myriad factors, does not the meet the criteria at this time to adequately address the county’s workforce housing needs both on a short-term, and more importantly, long-term basis,” Hurlbert said.
Hurlbert explained that the resort currently provides 350 beds to employees, but has a total need for around 500 beds. Around one-third of the beds provided by the resort are owned by the town of Winter Park and leased to the resort for seasonal employees.
Also, since the resort leases around two-thirds of its beds from private owners, housing can be unreliable.
Hurlbert noted that, as housing prices rise and more locals rent instead of buy, it puts more pressure on available units for seasonal workers.
“There’s a domino effect, if more full-time locals can’t buy and are forced to rent, those are fewer beds that we have the ability to rent for seasonal employees,” he said.
Housing is a key benefit that the resort offers its employees because it is an industry standard that most other ski resorts provide, Hurlbert said. He also noted that housing is not only key to attracting good workers, but retaining them.
“The market for good employees is competitive and for someone who wants to come to Winter Park, we want to make it as easy for them to make that decision as possible,” he said. “We don’t operate without our employees, obviously, and so we want to not only make it a place that people want to come, but also a place where people who do come want to stay and providing housing is a huge component of that.”
The resort’s ultimate goal is to have a single housing unit for all of their seasonal workers, Hurlbert said, especially since the units the resort currently relies on from the town are scattered over different properties.
“We’re going to continue to work with the town and other entities in the community because, I mean, this is not a problem that is isolated to Winter Park Resort, it affects every business in the entire county,” he said. “It’s pooling all of our resources in order to have more control over the amount of beds that we know we can count on from year to year.”
In a town workshop last week, Winter Park Town Manager Keith Riesberg told the town council that Winter Park is evaluating at least one development proposal for a seasonal workforce project that could provide 500 beds and other interest exists in the development community.
Riesberg pointed out this would be beneficial to the town on multiple levels because not only would it provide the seasonal workforce housing that doesn’t currently exist in Winter Park, but it would also help relieve some pressure from rental units.
“There’s enough interest or proposals that the major employers would rather take the time to vet and invest in actually affirming are those proposals viable,” Riesberg said. “As they acknowledge, if they solve their issues, it opens up a lot of housing opportunities within the community that are currently being used by the major employers for seasonal housing.”
As for the fate of the Dimmit II, housing manager John Crone explained to the town council during the workshop that the designs and work that has already been done could still be used to create workforce housing on that property.
“Three bedroom and occasional four bedroom units that are easily adaptable, condominiumized, would be my choice to go forward,” Crone said.
Ultimately, the town council directed staff to create a request for proposals (RFP) for the Dimmit II property to explore what kind of workforce housing options are available to them.
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