Earlier this month, I was afforded the opportunity to chat with newly appointed Sanford Mayor Art Woodruff about a wide range of topics. As Growth Watch readers know, Sanford is in a constant process of growth and evolution. Looking towards our future, Mayor Woodruff laid out his perspective on city growth, projects, events, governance, and more.
Mayor Woodruff was born and raised in Sanford, graduating from Seminole High School in 1980. He graduated from the University of North Carolina and returned to Sanford where he started teaching in Seminole County Public Schools. After fourteen years at Seminole High School as a science teacher and yearbook adviser, he transferred to Oviedo High School where he is currently a science teacher and technology coordinator.
Art and his wife Patti have been married since 1995. They have two children, Daniel and Rachel.
Art Woodruff was elected as Sanford District 1 City Commissioner in November 2014, re-elected in November 2018, and appointed as Mayor in July 2020.
HERITAGE PARK: Dubbed ‘The Catalyst Site,’ the Heritage Park development has generated great interest. What are your thoughts on this project as we stand today?
“Heritage Park looks to be a huge boon, and a big change. A significant change to the face of downtown, bringing in both new residents and businesses. It will put pressure on others to upgrade. The city is currently talking to the developers, Sanford Waterfront Partners, about their plans. They took out some tranquil living spaces, looking at some other changes. How do we address these changes?”
PARKING: What is the future of parking in Sanford? The city recently purchased a parcel of land on E. 1st Street with an eye towards the future – what may we expect?
“Heritage Park has upped their total parking spaces, and will now include up to 1.5 spaces per unit. What does future look like coming out of pandemic? Sanford needs to continue to look at places to put parking. One idea is instead of placing a parking requirement on developers, perhaps these funds will be placed into parking fund to pay for public spaces. A parking garage is expensive proposition, and it would require paid parking throughout downtown.”
MARINA ISLE and RIVERWALK: We have seen significant investment by the city on the Riverwalk and Marina Isle. What other action(s) do you foresee to continue improving that area?
“For the City, the only further thing planned is maintenance. Marina Island property is all under lease by other businesses. We hope with the Riverwalk and the 26 mile loop around Lake Monroe completed, that should be an impetus for these lease holders to do more work. The only thing Sanford has discussed is the addition of a fishing pier. An investment has been made for sailing, and it would be nice to see more. Event-wise, we do not take more advantage of the waterfront. Part of the reason is the disconnect between the lakefront and 1st street. We keep saying that we need a better connection; Heritage Park will help.”
EVENTS: How do you feel about our events going forward – both our smaller monthly events such as Alive After 5 and the larger footprint events such as Oktoberfest, Pints n’ Paws, and Jingle Jam?
“Events have been good for us, really put us on the map. We have to look at a new plan, but are concerned about number of street closures. Talking to businesses, it’s an issue. Customers have complaints. My goal with events is that they should, as much as possible, be good for all of the businesses downtown. Events are good exposure, but we need to make a way they can all participate in it. If events hurt businesses, we have a problem. Need to find the balance between excitement and bringing people downtown. Alive After 5 started as a wine walk, a way to bring people downtown. Sanford can now can be choosier. It’s uncertain coming out of the shutdown; we may be back to square one.
TOURISM: What are your thoughts on tourism for Sanford?
“It is important to make sure downtown continues to evolve and grow, that projects come to fruition and bring residents downtown. A parking problem is a good thing to have. Do we need a garage, or to utilize a Trolley? On Lake Mary Boulevard, we have to make that a more business industrial center. The area is one of our last locations for really good quality growth, and we need to make sure that is done right. Both houses and job centers.”
TROLLEY/INFRASTRUCTURE: The trolley has been a home run for the CRA, connecting the train and bus stations to downtown. What are your thoughts re: expansion of a shuttle service to the Central Florida Zoo? On the feasibility and desire to expand our reach and connect to the Sanford airport?
“It would be great to be able to connect all that, but that can’t be done with a single trolly. The more we can connect areas, the better. Passengers at Amtrak have 4 hour waits; at the airport that is not the case. I would like to see the study of what the market looks like to bring airline passengers to downtown Sanford. Regarding the Zoo, we would need some kind of partnership with them. One active local citizen has discussed with me the idea of installing a route for walking or biking from Sunrail to downtown.”
HOPPER ACADEMY: You personally have been great effort into the refurbishment of historic Hopper Academy. What are your goals for the space?
“This is where I am right now conducting this interview. I have been nearing the end of the project for four years now. Hopper needs some touch up painting and to get the stair lift to make the upstairs accessible, and this is an opportunity for Bright Futures hours to assist with painting and refinishing. One program we run out of Hopper Academy is “Art for Kids” which is part of the St. John’s River Festival of Arts. They worked out of the Boys and Girls club previously but needed a permanent space. Hopper also holds a senior program that has been popular, meeting weekly up until the Covid-19 shutdown, with 10-20 seniors doing arts and crafts. We are also looking at pottery classes, and have a kiln in the shed out back. Hopper also houses Seminole County print makers and engraving.”
HOTEL: There has long been clamor for a hotel in Historic Downtown Sanford. What can you tell us about the Mayfair Hotel project, as well as the project proposed for SunTrust lot on 1st St?
“I always see hotels as a 50/50 shot, we see lots of plans. If the Mayfair can be done, it will be a huge draw for downtown. The lot next to SunTrust, it would be nice to have downtown. Need to do study to see viability. Anything being approved and built, we want it to be viable and succeed.”
**Growth Watch readers stay tuned – There is much more to say and update re: Mayfair & the hotel project on 1st Street based on info I am hearing from developers and engineers, much of which has not come before the city commission yet. These will be covered in separate pieces in the near future!
CIVIC CENTER: What are your goals for the Civic Center, and the promotion of this great city asset?
“Sanford received a grant for an assessment regarding cost and viability of refurbishment, among other queries. My goal is to renovate and keep the Civic Center. I hope assessment comes out that we can. Is it big enough? Is there a way to expand it? We had seen a proposal with wrap around space, adding parking but keeping the main part of the Civic Center intact. The group doing Heritage Park would like to keep the Civic Center and reuse it.”
GOVERNANCE: What are your goals for governance? Any thoughts on making our city charter more streamlined and concise so it grows with our community?
“I will be continuing to focus on things I have always focused on, maintenance and capital replacement. In terms of business development, we still have a long way to go. I recently toured Consolidated Label on Lake Mary Blvd, and would love to see more of that along Lake Mary Boulevard, and we need to get businesses that want to be there. Small businesses, the City needs to do whatever we can to make them viable. And what I started when I first got on the city commission, to look out for the residents; what do the people here want? Regarding the City Commission, I want to stop talking about things. It’s time to start doing. I want to sit down and set goals.”
CITY HALL: Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how to make City Hall more business friendly & proactive helping Sanford businesses thrive? What are we doing well from your POV, and how can we improve?
“We have got to do a better job of making things easy. If someone wants to do something, we have to make it easier.”
CITIZEN INPUT: Thoughts on any new advisory boards? Some members of the business community would like to see a communications and marketing advisory board; any thoughts on this?
“I don’t want boards that don’t do anything. Thinking about stealing an idea about a Citizens Advisory Board, as I would like to sit down and get ideas on regular basis. But these must be useful. I would rather use an organization such as Sanford Main St. than go through city; when the city gets involved sometimes less gets done.”