The developers of Bonnet Springs Park are asking the city of Lakeland for a $399,601 reduction in the price of city-owned land that will be used to support the park, and several city commissioners today appeared ready to grant that request when they vote on it Monday.
The property in question is a 2.6-acre triangle at the southwest junction of Kathleen Road and George Jenkins Boulevard/Sikes Boulevard. In 2018, the city agreed to sell the property for its appraised value of $424,601 to Lake Wire Development Co., which also owns the former Florida Tile site just to the south.
Lake Wire Development, a subsidiary of the nonprofit organization building the massive Bonnet Springs Park, plans to purchase the city property and then sell it, along with the Florida Tile site, in a 22-acre package to Carter Acquisitions LLC of Atlanta, which is planning an apartment and retail complex there. The reported purchase price is $9.925 million.
Proceeds from that sale, which is expected to close in about a month, will be placed in an endowment that will fund maintenance of the 161-acre Bonnet Springs Park for 100-plus years, Bonnet Springs Park officials told city commissioners this morning.
The request to reduce the price of the land came in a letter to Mayor Bill Mutz from three Bonnet Springs Park officials: Barney Barnett, chairman of the board of directors, Jack Harrell Jr., chairman of the executive committee, and Josh Henderson, chief executive officer.
In it, they reminded Mutz that he and the rest of the City Commission left the door open for a price reduction in the contract to sell the land that they approved in 2018. At the time, Bonnet Springs had asked that the land be donated; the city declined, agreeing instead to sell it at its appraised price with five years to close on the deal.
View the letter and the land sales contract here or at the end of this article.
A clause in the contract reads: “The Purchase Price may be reduced by Seller in Seller’s sole discretion at or prior to Closing upon Seller’s review and consideration of any development plan(s) presented to Seller by Purchaser at or prior to Closing.”
With closing imminent, the park officials asked that the city waive the purchase price with the exception of the $25,000 already held in escrow as a deposit.
The requested waiver, the letter said, is “in consideration of the completed construction and October 22, 2022, planned opening of the privately funded, $110 million Bonnet Springs Park widely acknowledged as transformational within Lakeland” and the planned mixed-use development and its 630 apartments.
In a slide presentation supporting their request, the Bonnet Springs officials said the park developers have:
- Removed 36 tons of illegally dumped garbage from the park site.
- Paid $550,000 in impact fees so far.
- Spent $8 million to remediate a stormwater pollution source on Kathleen Road.
- Assisted the city of Lakeland in a $43 million state grant to clean Lake Bonnet.
- Secured the developer for the former Florida Tile site.
- Established an endowment fund to maintain the park so that no taxpayers funds will be used.
View the slide presentation here or at the end of this article.
Mutz said he sees merit to the request. “The good news to the taxpayer is that for this investment, if we made a decision to waive it, we’ve seeded it into the machine that ends up funding (the park’s maintenance) going forward. And so that’s a pretty good place to leverage our gift if we’re going to do something.”
Commissioners Chad McLeod and Sara Roberts McCarley offered their support.
McLeod expressed relief that the city won’t be tapped for maintenance costs, as was once presumed. “So the fact that we don’t have those costs, to me this would make this something that that I would definitely support and makes our partnership stronger in the project.”
McCarley praised the park as “transformational … This is not going to be a city of Lakeland park and it’s not going to be a state of Florida park. It is going to be a world-renowned park. It’s highly unusual to have this in a city of our size and I think it’s going to just benefit us as far as even the Lake Wire side of development and making sure that we’re taking care of that side of our community and enhancing it. I think this is kind of a small amount of skin in the game from the city’s perspective.”
The only commissioner at this morning’s agenda session who questioned the payment waiver was Bill Read. He said he is excited about the park and has donated personal funds to it. “Just from a taxpayer standpoint, I don’t see the capability of donating that much money from that many people.”
Read also asked to see documentation that the proceeds from the land sale to the Atlanta developer would all go toward the endowment fund that will pay for park maintenance. Realtor David Bunch, representing Lake Wire Development, and park CEO Henderson said the documentation would be provided in time for the commissioner’s vote at its 9 a.m. meeting Monday at City Hall.
Commissioners Stephanie Madden, Mike Musick and Phillip Walker did not attend this morning’s meeting.
Commissioners will consider another request involving the Lake Wire Development property on Monday.
Lake Wire Development is requesting tax-increment financing, which provides a break on property taxes that would be paid to the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency. Typically the city allows reimbursement of 50% of the tax increment collected in the first year and the same dollar amount for the next four years. At that rate, developer Carter would get a discount of about $1.55 million over the course of the five years, according to city documents.
However, Carter requested a 75% increment for 10 years, resulting in a discount of about $4.64 million.
The Lakeland CRA Advisory Board last week recommended a compromise: 75% reimbursement
for years 1 through 5, and 50% for years 6 through 10, resulting in a $3.87 million discount.
Carter estimated its development costs at $72.2 million.
Commissioners will determine the final level of tax increment financing on Monday.
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