Chamber building

As Lakeland Chamber of Commerce leaders pursue plans to develop a business resource center, they’re floating an idea: Instead of moving into a new facility, why not double the size of the 1926 building they’ve used for 51 years?

They asked two historic preservation organizations for feedback about their idea to expand the Park Trammel Building while trying to maintain its historic character. At best, they got a lukewarm reception.

Real estate developer Matt Clark, who chairs the chamber’s Innovation Committee, summarized the case this morning to the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board:

  • The business resource center (recent coverage) needs to be downtown.
  • The current building atop a hill overlooking the north shore of Lake Morton is iconic and “sits on the best site in all of Lakeland.”
  • But at 6,000 square feet, it’s less than half the 13,000 square feet anticipated, it’s not ADA accessible, and there’s no space for conferences or collaboration.
  • The chamber seeks broad public support for the project as it embarks on a $4 million fund-raising campaign for a center to house up to 13 business-serving agencies.
  • With those things in mind, the chamber wants input from historic preservation groups in designing the expansion in a way that honors the building’s park-like setting, possibly by building out to the side and using subterranean space. “Is there a way to double the size of this and still protect the scale of the building?”

Most of the comments from historic preservation board members were skeptical, but two expressed support.

Lynn Dennis offered some perspectives from involvement in historic rehab projects at Florida Southern College, where she is executive assistant to the president: “Knowing what we have to do to retrofit buildings … It will take a lot of money to make that work. You’ll be better off building a (new) building that will work.”

Chairman George Ross, a general contractor, recalled that a previous proposal to expand the chamber building drawn up by a local architect met with a lot of opposition. “We don’t want that divisiveness.”

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Downtown restaurateur Tim Calhoon questioned the availability of parking (the chamber doesn’t control the parking just north of the building) and noted that there are not yet drawings showing what the expansion might look like. “My gut feeling: I don’t want to see it change but I’d have to see something visual (to be convinced.)”

Architect Dan Fowler of The Lunz Group offered a passionate argument in favor of using the building expansion to bring in an architect with international stature and make a bold statement in line with the Frank Lloyd Wright designs at FSC or the Santiago Calatrava main building at Florida Poly.

His suggestion: Supplement the original building with a modern new front facing toward downtown and wings on each side.

“You want to contrast new design to the historic to make the historic stand out. Bringing in world-class design would be a tremendous asset to Lakeland,” he said. “You walk around downtown. It’s so pleasant, it puts you to sleep … I’m just aching for some good design in this town.”

Interior designer Ursula Radabaugh said the expansion idea intrigues her “but you’d have to do it right” and preserve the expansive lawn overlooking the lake.

The idea was presented last week to Historic Lakeland Inc., which didn’t support expanding the building but offered help finding a suitable new location, city historic planner Emily Foster said.

After the meeting, Clark said the preservation board’s reaction was what he expected. “It’s not a hell no, but not a come on down either.”

His next step, he said, is to go bring the feedback from the two historic preservation groups to his committee and decide whether they’re comfortable proceeding. “Do you  spend 100 grand to (hire a world-class architect to) get design renderings and schematics?”

Clark said his committee is considering other properties in Lakeland but it’s too early to disclose which ones.

The Park Trammel Building is owned by the city of Lakeland and leased to the chamber for $1 a year. City Hall higher-ups support the chamber’s efforts to explore expanding the building, Clark said.

The Mediterranean Revival building was constructed in 1926 on the site of a park to house the Lakeland Public Library, which occupied the space from 1927 until 1966. The chamber moved into the building after the library moved to the Palmetto Street side of Lake Morton.

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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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