As cities continue to reopen in the wake of the coronavirus, work that had been put on hold is restarting — to the delight of everyone involved.

Businessman Wesley Beck says developing downtown is great for the community.

“Walkability is important. It’s a lifestyle to come to work, park your car, see your lawyer and banker — and walk to get there.”

Beck, president of Aspyre Properties and BecKryger Capital Properties, is building his new 24,000-square-foot office building, complete with a parking garage, at 632 East Main — the first new building he’s occupied.

“We moved our office downtown five years ago. Typically, we bought a building and then leased the space and moved somewhere else. I wanted something that was mine, that I designed and built. That’s what we are doing there.”

Beck already owns the building next door, The Joinery, and recently opened Heritage Plaza Parking Garage. On the other side of his new office is Catapult, a Lakeland Economic Development Council project to foster an environment for new entrepreneurs. Beck is also chairman of the LEDC.

“We wanted to be part of the development that’s going on in the city, and being downtown is important. We know from other communities that entrepreneurs want to be downtown, and we’re happy to have that footprint in the downtown area.”

That’s only the start.

“Even grander is Summit’s new office building along the west shore of Lake Mirror,” said Brian Rewis, assistant director of Community & Economic Development for the city. That building includes “approximately 135,000 square feet of Class A office space and parking garage to accommodate about 500 of Summit’s employees, and public use of the garage after hours and on weekends. Project completion is expected in the fall of 2021.”

Just north of the Lakeland Police Department is a planned development of 156,000 square feet of office and flex space that will be built in three phases on the former Greyhound Bus Terminal site and adjacent Community Redevelopment Agency-owned property.

“The design is a tasteful nod to the Thelma Hotel, which was once a downtown staple until the 1960s,” Rewis said. Built in 1913, the hotel was located at 130 South Kentucky Ave. and East Lemon Street. It was closed in April 1962 and razed a month later.

The northern part of downtown, between Oak Street and the In-Town Bypass, could also see development. That area is part of a master plan being developed that “would maximize several vacant lots north of Pine Street to the Bypass,” Rewis said.

“If accomplished, the development, valued at $99 million, could increase residency by another 1,400 people. Additionally, we would net 675 parking spaces to accommodate visitors,” he said.

And then there’s recreation.

“Public investment in downtown recreational amenities continued until the coronavirus pandemic, with Central Bark, a new city-owned dog park planned for the site between The Joinery and the park-and-ride lot,” Rewis said. “That project is currently on hold but is still planned, depending on the duration and financial impacts of the pandemic.”

High Priority: Connectivity

Connecting people with jobs, recreation, leisure activities and services, using multiple forms of transportation, remains “the highest priorities for downtown,” Rewis said.

He  said the city is studying whether to build:

  • A parking garage on the surface parking lot behind the Lakeland Police Department.
  • An elevated pedestrian path spanning the railroad tracks and East Main Street to connect Lake Mirror to properties and residents and visitors north of the tracks.

Along with the Florida Department of Transportation and Polk Transportation Planning Organization, the city located a site near the RP Funding Center for a “planned Intermodal Center providing a convenient, consolidated one-stop for rail, bus, ridesharing, bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists to get where they’re going.”

The Intermodal Center would house the Citrus Connection Downtown Terminal and Citrus Connection offices, and an AMTRAK Station “designed to support a future SUNRail commuter rail service or any regional transit that is developed in the Tampa Bay region.”

This new modern transportation “hub” will be designed to accommodate a future pedestrian overpass to the former Florida Tile site on Lake Wire, which is being positioned for mixed-use development with retail, office, residential and office uses,” he said. The city and Citrus Connection are requesting funds from FDOT for an environmental analysis so the center can be constructed in about five years.

The hub would include a parking garage to serve everyone from out-of-town visitors to downtown residents near the RP Funding Center.

Rewis also mentioned other projects:

  • The one-year Florida Avenue Road Diet test that is now underway on South Florida Avenue from Ariana Street to Lime Street. “If successful, it is expected to transform the south side of downtown and the Dixieland commercial district.”
  • The West Lake Hunter Trail corridor is being evaluated by FDOT to connect the New York Avenue Cycle Track with southwestern Lakeland. “This trail will represent a significant Lake-to-Lake Bikeway improvement to provide additional commuting and recreation options for Lakeland residents and employees.”

For additional information about this topic or how to become a partner with the Central Florida Development Council, please contact Lindsay Zimmerman at lindsay@cfdc.org.