Polk County and the cities of Lakeland and Auburndale signed a memorandum of understanding in September 2019 to work together with the CFDC to develop a vision for the Central Florida Innovation District.

“Collaboration and coordination are key to both the establishment of a vision for the Innovation District and the realization of that vision,” said Teresa Maio, a manager in the city of Lakeland’s Community and Economic Development division. “From the public perspective, the district extends across jurisdictional boundaries, and rather than creating limits, it joins together key assets from within each of the local governments.”

Under the MOU, the cities and county will collaborate with landowners and stakeholders to develop the Innovation District.

“As a result, our land-use policies need to be consistent in order to encourage and guide future development that supports the vision,” Maio said. “This means working alongside the other local governments, the CFDC, the university, SunTrax and major landowners to identify common goals and create the framework for a cohesive district to increase economic development opportunities for all involved.”

Julie Fife, a manager in the Office of Planning & Development for Polk County, said there has already been a significant public investment in Florida Poly and SunTrax.

“The goal is to implement a shared vision of economic growth based on innovation and research,” Fife said. “The MOU is just the first step in creating this cohesive vision and showcasing the best of what Polk County has to offer. The transformational technologies being developed at Florida Poly and SunTrax can translate into high-tech industries and jobs here in Polk County.”

County Leadership

County Commission Chairman George Lindsey said the MOU doesn’t change any land-use plans. “It’s an idea to direct focus in that area in hopes we can raise the bar a little bit and take advantage of those two very key elements,” meaning Florida Poly and SunTrax.

“There are a dozen or more individual property owners that have different needs, objectives, desires,” Lindsey said. “We set the tone. Working together, this can enhance the entire area. This is going to be a challenge. The objective and goal is the same (as other research-oriented areas), and the parts and pieces are there if we can guide the process.”

But it won’t happen overnight, he said.

And that’s okay, said Amy Palmer, director of community development in Auburndale, because everyone involved is shooting for something better. In Auburndale’s case, the city wants to ensure the Innovation District and the Lakes District it is developing complement each other.

“We want the Lakes District to meld into the Innovation District,” Palmer said. “There is a lot of synergy there. What we’re trying to do with the Lakes District (which borders the Innovation District) is to create that quality of place, which is also what the Innovation District is doing. People who may be working in the Innovation District may find a place to live there, but they may also go next door into the Lakes District.”

A Collaborative Vision

Tim Hoeft, managing principal of Straughn Trout Architects, and Brad Lunz, president of The Lunz Group, were commissioned to collaborate on a plan to design the vision for the district.

Hoeft and Lunz are both Polk County natives.

“There’s hometown excitement about this, little things can make a big impact. I want to help shape it as we move forward,” Hoeft said. “Florida Poly and SunTrax are innovation and research-focused, it’s really a different type of setting for us locally. This is our opportunity to shape Polk County’s innovation hub, we need to make the most of it and do it right.”

It all comes down to looking at the big picture and that’s where the MOU comes into play.