As Polk County continues to grow, the Central Florida Development Council is excited to announce its upcoming move into an office building being renovated by SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, a commercial real estate brokerage firm that is expanding.

The main building at 1723 U.S. 98 S., adjacent to the Grove Park Publix Shopping Center, was designed by Gene Leedy, a famed architect who spent much of his life in Polk County. Through the years, famous Leedy trademarks like the building’s double T-beams have been covered. 

When founder and Managing Director Dean Saunders offered a “strong proposal”, President & CEO Sean Malott said the countywide organization decided to “join them in the venture.” In its current location south of Highland City, it had outgrown its space and the organization was in need of a conference room large enough for board meetings and committee meetings, 

“We are taking a different approach,” Malott said. “This space is not much bigger, it’s just laid out differently.” 

Location Assets

The complex has three buildings. SVN | Saunders, Ralston, Dantzler will occupy one building, and the CFDC will lease the other. The building that connects those two, which was once the main entrance, will now be the CFDC’s large meeting room referred to as the Annex. Saunders said the arrangement is “synergistic.”

Having a larger meeting area to host board and committee meetings was a major factor in the decision to move, Malott said. “We always had to go to someone else’s location, which has its benefits, but now we will be able to showcase what’s interesting about Polk County from within the CFDC Headquarters.” 

The CFDC is investing in technology to host video meetings in the boardroom so people who are not comfortable attending during the coronavirus pandemic or just can’t make it to the office can still participate. “We will have cameras and sound equipment.” 

Although the building the CFDC will occupy is not a Leedy-designed structure, the CFDC will benefit from being there, Malott said. “It’s a space that is somewhat a showpiece in itself, so we can bring in prospects and site selectors and display materials in a fashion that highlights the strengths of the area.”

Jake Polumbo, chairman of the CFDC board, said the new space is more open, allowing for a collaborative atmosphere while still social distancing. Its new, improved technology allows for hybrid meetings “to better meet our Investors’ needs in a virtual, digitized environment.” 

In addition, Polumbo said, the new location is closer to the Central Florida Innovation District and Lakeland’s burgeoning downtown. “It’s a new look for the CFDC, a place to showcase our strategy and our vision for the economic development of Polk County and Central Florida.”

SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler

Like the CFDC, SVN | Saunders Ralston Dantzler has outgrown its current space across from Munn Park and plans to move into its new home at the end of September.

Saunders said he did not know the building was designed by Leedy, instead picking it for its size and location along U.S. 98 and near the Polk Parkway — with land and space to lease. “Once we realized it was a Gene Leedy building, the project became about the art of the possible, and it really infused inspiration into our approach. Our architect inspired a vision to restore it to what it once was, and even move beyond that with an homage to Gene Leedy’s design. We’re re-exposing the signature Ts throughout the structure as a recognition and appreciation for his work, but with a new twist — these features will be enclosed and incorporated inside the building.”

The firm is leaving downtown, which it loves, mostly because of a lack of signage, little exposure and parking issues, Saunders said. “We do feel that we need not only more space and parking but visibility because we are not just a Lakeland firm, we are statewide. We feel the new location reflects this aspect of our brand more strongly.”

 Having extra space on-site gives the company the flexibility to incorporate things like storage for its signage shop, a large smoker, equipment, etc. “The additional acreage also means we can host some events on-site, like our annual BBQ, which we normally have at a separate venue. We’ll be able to set up under the trees on the lot and also allow our guests to see the new offices.”

The company will occupy about 10,000 of the building’s 13,000 square feet. “The flexible interior design creates a lot of multifunctionality in the new space,” Saunders said. “The conference room, for instance, has collapsable nana walls so space can be opened up easily for larger groups and we can also host small groups for lunches, seminars, social gatherings and educational presentations.”

SVN | Saunders employs 71 people, including 13 full time. As part of global SVN, the firm hopes to use technology and attract a younger generation. “The building itself supports our forward-thinking and growth mindset in its mid-century modern industrial design and updated functionality. It has an appeal to millennials and is being designed to be relevant 10-15 years down the road.”

The new building will feature Saunders’ extensive collection of original artwork. “I’m a huge fan of Florida history and local artists who paint our landscapes and wildlife. I also have an extensive collection of antique maps of the state. Over the last 15 years or so, we’ve commissioned a Florida artist each year to do an original painting in the Highwayman tradition. Many of the original pieces are in our offices, and in the new space there is an intentional design to feature artwork in more of a gallery presentation, particularly in the main lobby.”

It also includes an audio and video studio to allow the firm more creativity. It may even allow others to rent time in the studio.

Saunders is excited about the new building, especially its nod to past architecture and focus on the future through technology. “It’s going to look amazing and provide a great work environment. The finished product will be more than an office building, and I’m excited about all the uses we can envision for the new space.”