A City Commission review of plans for a downtown dog park turned into a discussion about parking in the fast-developing area north of Lake Mirror and what walkability means in an increasingly urbanized city core.

The discussion came Friday as commissioners previewed a request they’ll vote on today involving funding for the Central Bark dog park planned for vacant land on Main Street near Rose Street and next to The Joinery, a newly opened food hall.

Parks officials stepped back expectations for the upcoming downtown dog park after bids for construction costs were twice what was originally expected

Central Bark will be built north of Lake Mirror on East Main Street just east of The Joinery. Part of it will lie beneath the U.S. 98 overpass.

The 27,242-square-foot dog park planned for 678 E. Main St. was initially budgeted at $300,000, but bidders’ responses suggested it would cost around $600,000 to build. In response, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department cut proposed features and managed to lower the estimated price to $400,000, Finance Director Mike Brossart said Friday. 

When asked by commissioners whether that price would stay at that level, Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Pam Page said it would. 

“We always work within our budget,” she said. “It might not have all the bells and whistles we’d like to see, but it will be a very functional dog park.”

City Manager Tony Delgado, speaking directly to the overhead camera, made an appeal to Lakeland’s philanthropically minded. “I’m going to make this pitch on video. If anyone is interested in sponsoring a dog park —” he said, trailing off. 

The city is awaiting a permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and expects to start construction in late February, a process expected to take nine months. 

An early artist rendering for Central Bark.

Commissioners continued to support the public amenity in the rapidly growing area north of Lake Mirror, which recently saw the opening of The Joinery, Lakeland’s first multi-vendor food hall, and several upcoming projects: the Catapult business incubator opening this spring, the Mirrorton apartment complex and two office buildings.

“Accommodating pets is a very, very important part of a city,” Mayor Bill Mutz said.

Page added that “I think it’s something all cool towns have.”

The commission is expected to approve the adjusted dog park budget today. The extra $100,000 is proposed to come from Community Redevelopment Agency funds earmarked for downtown projects.

During Friday’s discussion, Commissioner Bill Read asked about parking for the dog park, noting that crowds checking out The Joinery since it soft opened two weeks ago have encountered parking challenges.

The grass lot where the dog park will be built was being used by Joinery patrons despite No Parking signs when the food hall first opened; the lot has since been marked with police tape to prevent parking.

The rapid growth of the area has presented some pressure on parking, but that’s not necessarily a problem, commissioners and staff members said, noting North Lake Mirror is intended to be a pedestrian-focused part of the city. 

City Manager Tony Delgado pointed to plans for future parking garages near Lake Mirror and said that there will be some short-term “growing pains.”

And mostly, “people are walking,” Community and Economic Development Director Nicole Travis said, and presently, the Iowa Street parking garage, street parking and other city lots in the area are enough to meet the need. 

“People have to get over the fact that you won’t park 20 feet from the door,” Commissioner Scott Franklin said. 

But more parking is on the way with the planned Summit headquarters building at the northwest corner of Lake Mirror, Delgado added, and the idea of building another garage adjacent to Lakeland Police Department has been a long-term consideration.

The parking lot at the Lakeland Fire Department’s administrative headquarters across Main Street from The Joinery is available to the public on evenings and weekends, Delgado said.

Some of these snarls are expected to work themselves out at residents rediscover the portion of the city that had until recently been a sleepy alcove on the edge of the central business district. The dog park adjacent to Cleveland Heights Golf Course had packed parking in the beginning too, Page said. Now, it’s not a problem as people include the walk to and from the park with their dogs as part of the outing. 

“I think that being a dog owner — I have three, I walk them all the time — and you just, part of being a dog owner is walking them. You don’t just take them to this tiny dog park, but part of the experience is walking to the dog park and walking back,” Page said.

And as far as getting people to the people stuff on the strip, any emerging problem could be as easy to solve as putting up better signs, Travis said. 

Video – The commission’s Friday discussion:

Agenda Study & Committees 2020.01.31 from City of Lakeland on Vimeo.

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