cash feed interior

Ninety-three years after it was built to process and warehouse citrus products, the Cash Feed building overlooking Lake Mirror is going to be demolished. 

Permission to demolish the three-story building was granted this morning in a 4-1 vote of the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board‘s Design Review Committee.

The Lakeland Economic Development Council, which bought the building nearly two years ago, sought the demolition based on the findings of a structural engineer  that damage from Hurricane Irma renders the building unsafe and renovation too costly.

The organization had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in its efforts to convert the building into a new home for the Catapult business incubator.

Photos by David Dickey Jr.

Emily Foster, the city’s historic preservation specialist, had recommended that the roof and trusses be demolished but that efforts be made to preserve the outer walls.

In voting for full demolition instead, committee members said they were persuaded that the cost to preserve the building would far exceed the historic significance of the building.

The committee’s vote calls for full demolition after the building is documented photographically and salvageable materials removed. In addition, any new plans for the site will come under historic review.

Voting in favor were committee members Tim Calhoon, Kyle Cline, Derek Hartman and George Ross. The motion was opposed by Linda Trumble, who supported a request by Historic Lakeland Inc. that a decision be delayed until the damage could be evaluated by another structural engineer.

Catapult project manager Wesley Beck, who is also vice chair of LEDC, had said a delay in demolishing the building, would cause the organization to seek other options.

After the meeting, Beck said it’s still too soon to say whether the next Catapult facility will be built on the Lake Mirror property or elsewhere. Both the LEDC board and the Catapult board will need to meet to look at options, which might include re-locating Catapult to an “under-served part of town,” he said.

The main issue for Catapult is that it is outgrowing its current quarters in the basement of the Bank of America building downtown, he said. “The big issue is we’re running out of room.”

Disclosure: I’m a CoWorking member of Catapult, which means I pay a relatively modest monthly fee to work there, use their facilities and take advantage of entrepreneurship programs. My membership has not affected which media outlets LEDC uses to make major announcements.

Dan Fowler, an architect who has worked on the Catapult project, told the committee he estimates it would cost LEDC up to $6 million to preserve the building before even taking renovation costs in consideration.

“I would suggest that that kind of money goes into preserving buildings of a national historic significance by an internationally acclaimed artchitect,” he said. “It’s not palatable to put that kind of money into a building that has only local city signficance.”

Fowler is a member of the Historic Preservation Board, but not on the Design Review Committee that voted this morning.

Total building costs for the Cash Feed renovation were estimated at $10 million when LEDC announced in September 2015 that it had received a $13 million donation for the project from three anonymous donors. The rest of the funds were intended to operate Catapult for its first three years in the larger facility.

Lakeland Community Development Jim Studiale, who in May became the second person to win a lifetime achievement award from Historic Lakeland Inc., supported the demolition request.

Unlike other 1920s buildings he fought to preserve, he said the Cash Feed facility was built without poured concrete reinforcements, rendering the hollow-tile walls fragile.

“Wesley (Beck) and LEDC had their heart in it,” Studiale said. “They spent two years trying to do it. They spent an inordinate amount of money looking at it … Nobody should think it’s a lack of desire.”

Historic Lakeland Inc. letter

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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