By Randy Noles
Philip Tiedtke (above right) originally thought the Winter Park Library & Events Center (above left) was too large and costly. Now he’s funding the amphitheater that will bear his family’s name.

Winter Park could use a lot more folks like Philip and Sigrid Tiedtke —  and not just because they’re well positioned to make a difference through philanthropy. That’s nice, of course, but hardly unique in a city filled with people whose bank balances are healthy enough to support an array of causes. 

What’s so admirable about the Tiedtkes is the purposeful way they go about their giving, always seeking to solve a problem, fill a need or make the community a better place culturally and intellectually. Take the Winter Park Library & Events Center, for example.

When news broke that the city had fallen $750,000 short in private fundraising needed to complete an amphitheater on the soon-to-open campus, Philip Tiedtke picked up the phone, called City Manager Randy Knight and offered to cover the entire tab.

Just a few weeks later, it was announced that the amphitheater would be completed on schedule and would heretofore be known as Tiedtke Amphitheater.

I never worried that no one would step up. But this particular benefactor was an unexpected one. Tiedtke happened to be among those who, from the very beginning, thought the whole glitzy celebritect-designed complex was simply just too costly for a small city — even an affluent one. 

Such a viewpoint was entirely defensible and shared by nearly half of registered voters. After all, a razor-thin majority approved the bond issue in 2016, a result that reflected genuine discomfort among many voters. Elections, however, have consequences.

“It’s happening, so all those arguments are moot,” says Tiedtke, whose donation was made through his family’s Florida Charities Foundation. “The only thing that matters now is, do you care about the future of Winter Park? If you do, then you need to get behind this beautiful project.”

Take a moment and let that sentiment sink in. A person initially unsupportive of the entire effort just wrote a substantial check to pay for an enhancement — and at the same time called for erstwhile naysayers to rally around the flag. 

No, that doesn’t mean Tiedtke believes he was incorrect in 2016. He does, however, believe this: Once a new library and events center became a fait accompli, the focus should have shifted toward making it a great library and events center. 

Also intriguing about the Tiedtke connection is possible synergy between Winter Park’s brand-new civic hub and Enzian’s 30-year-old Florida Film Festival. 

Enzian, the region’s only art-house cinema, was funded by the legendary John M. Tiedtke, Philip’s father, and was first run by Philip’s sister Tina. Later, Philip and Sigrid had charge of the beloved community institution, which is tucked away on that familiar wooded lot in Maitland.

Today, Enzian’s managing director is Elizabeth Tiedtke Mukherjee, Philip and Sigrid’s daughter, who spent much of her childhood darting around the theater and began helping as soon as she was old enough to take tickets.

“The film festival was an afterthought when I made the donation for the amphitheater,” insists Tiedtke, who adds that cooperative opportunities will be explored. “Maybe there are ways we could broaden the festival’s footprint into Winter Park. If there are, we’ll try.” 

So, while it’s much too early to suggest any specific connection between the star-studded, Oscar-qualifying event and the dazzling David Adjaye-designed campus in Winter Park, the possibilities are intriguing. Also intriguing is speculation about what Tiedtke may do next.

Just prior to writing a check for the amphitheater, his family foundation contributed $3 million for an as-yet unnamed black box theater and rehearsal space on the campus of Rollins College (see page 24). The new building would replace the Fred Stone Theater, a charming but rickety circa-1920s church that had been demolished due to safety concerns.

“Again, it was a question of need,” says Tiedtke, who’s a member of the college’s board of trustees. “It was time to give the theater project a nudge forward.”

Surely arts philanthropy is in Tiedtke’s genes. His father became an angel to nearly every arts organization in town, including the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, the Florida Symphony Orchestra, the Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Opera and the Festival of Orchestras in addition to being a founder/funder of United Arts of Central Florida.

The elder Tiedtke, who had made his fortune growing sugar in South Florida, even took over operation of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park when founder Isabelle Sprague-Smith died in 1950.

The music-loving magnate served as president of the nonprofit and would remain in that position — often funding deficits from his own pocket — for 54 years until his death at age 97. The flagship music venue at Rollins is the John M. Tiedtke Concert Hall. 

With that sort of family history — and with two
headline-making acts of philanthropy in rapid succession — could it be assumed that Tiedtke has more delightful surprises up his sleeve?

“That’s how you should end the column,” says Tiedtke with a smile, leaving me momentarily puzzled and prompting him to repeat himself. “I mean, you just wrote your ending. The column should end with that question.”

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