Shaping Auburndale’s Future in the New Year
From business rebranding to expansion, the City of Auburndale continues to grow, but is keeping its charm.
And that’s only the start, according to Auburndale City Manager Jeff Tillman who’s excited about the upcoming growth.
“We’ve once again partnered with Polk County on improvements at Lake Myrtle to help attract additional events to the sports complex,” he said. “A $4 million soccer stadium is currently under construction on the championship soccer field that will allow the city to host larger tournaments from around the country.”
The city is also working to complete a $2.6 million site for water sports competitions on the south end of the complex. The Board of County Commissioners will consider using Tourism and Sports Marketing funds to cover half the costs.
“As we grow the footprint of the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex, the economic return of the facility and amenities it provides to Auburndale residents is encouraging.”
He’s also excited about the rebranding of the Cabana Club RV Resort and Cottages to Camp Margaritaville RV Resort and Cabana Cabins. “The rebranding is tremendously complementary to the vision for Auburndale in becoming a tourism and sports destination. I’ve heard a number of visitors state it is the best RV Resort they have been to in the country. What an asset to have in our community.”
Like other cities in Polk County, Auburndale is experiencing growth, bringing opportunities and challenges.
Auburndale has grown by about 2,000 residents to 15,616 people in the 2020 Census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Still, “Auburndale has not lost that small-town charm in our downtown that I feel more and more people appreciate,” Tillman said.
In addition to the downtown, the city’s lakes and Sports Complex provide amenities that people moving to the area want to locate near, he said.
Of course, more people means a need for more jobs. Employment opportunities have increased significantly as staples like the Coca-Cola Main Street Plant expand and other businesses move there.
Tillman likes to take potential new businesses on a tour of the city to attract them to Auburndale. “The picturesque views of the lakes and our quaint downtown help with the conversation,” he said. “Any business looking to locate to Auburndale would be in good company with the businesses that are currently in Auburndale.”
He refers to the world’s largest Coca-Cola plant built from the ground up, just four blocks from City Hall. An underground pipeline supplies them with the orange juice it needs for its Simply Orange brand from nearby Cutrale Citrus Juices.
Tillman says the city is “conveniently located in the center of Polk County and strategically located between Tampa and Orlando.” This, he says, has attracted significant investments from the private sector.
“National brands are locating in the city, such as Medline, Amazon and Camp Margaritaville, as well as public-sector investments made by the state in the SunTrax autonomous vehicle testing facility and the nearby Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.”
The second phase of the SunTrax facility is scheduled to be completed late this summer, and “the economic opportunity around the facility will only encourage more people to locate to Auburndale,” Tillman said.
The city hasn’t seen the tip of the iceberg yet, he said. Along with the opening of the newest part of SunTrax, “the opportunities to grow around the facility and toward Florida Polytechnic University are just taking shape. We are seeing a variety of markets looking to call Auburndale home, from the existing logistics markets, research and development opportunities, and the growing sports and tourism industry. It’s a great time to be in Auburndale.”
The City Commission recently approved a mixed-use development located on the part of Pace Road that lies within the Central Florida Innovation District, a developing research park. The development consists of 10 out-parcels for mixed-commercial use, two research and development buildings, and a 464,400-square-foot e-commerce and logistics building.
“The mixed-use development will complement not only SunTrax, but it’s at the doorstep of Florida Poly, whose students and faculty will likely be the ones who support the commercial activity, in addition to Auburndale residents.”
Like its neighbor Lakeland, Auburndale is seeing unprecedented growth in the labor market.
“New residential developments can be seen at every turn as you travel through Auburndale,” Tillman said. “This is a tremendous change; most Auburndale residents are used to seeing orange groves and agriculture.”
The Lakes District, which has been in the works since 2019, will “help balance the residential growth with needed parks, open spaces, services and other amenities in the North Auburndale area,” he said.
The City Commission recently adopted development standards for The Lakes District Master Planned Community to “bring back traditional neighborhood design, create mixed-use village centers and provide trails and open space for residents.”
“All new development within The Lakes District boundary will be required to develop under these new standards, and city staff has been working with a handful of developers and engineers who are designing new neighborhoods in The Lakes District. Everyone we’ve talked to is excited about the idea of The Lakes District and seeing the vision become reality.”
Growth and Challenges
As the city grows, it also faces challenges, like how to continue to provide the same level of customer service residents have become used to, and the city is proud of, and how to maintain its low tax rate, Tillman said. Auburndale has the second-lowest property tax rate in Polk County.
Auburndale recently hosted a community workshop to get public input for a master plan for Lake Ariana Park, which needs significant capital improvements, Tillman said. The city received some great ideas.
Lake Ariana Park used to be home to City Beach, “where most residents grew up enjoying the lakefront and have many fond memories,” Tillman said. Now, the city wants to relocate the Civic Center from downtown to the park “to create commercial opportunities in the downtown.”
In five to 10 years, Tillman said the city will see how its vision is evolving.
“We are all excited to see the future opportunities in The Lakes District and how it will shape the gateway into our community. The economic engines of the Lake Myrtle Sports Complex and SunTrax are just getting started, and we plan to see the growth we have already experienced continue around those catalysts.
With changes downtown and its plans for parks, the city is on the move. “It will be so important to preserve the character of Auburndale moving forward, but it is an exciting time.”