Developer Gregory Fancelli has the go-ahead to pay the city of Lakeland $200,000 for nearly half an acre fronting Massachusetts Avenue to incorporate into a 1 1/2-block commercial/office/residential project he’s planning.

The land is in the block just north of the Lakeland Police station, and the deal depends on a pending agreement that Fancelli’s FURC1 LLC has to buy the former site of Lakeland’s Greyhound bus station in the same block.

The vacant .40 acres at 313 and 321 N. Massachusetts Ave. belongs to Lakeland’s Community Redevelopment Agency, whose director, Alis Drumgo, described the proposed development as a linchpin in plans to revitalize the Massachusetts Avenue corridor between downtown and the U.S. 98 intersection.

The lighter orange in the map shows the outline of a commercial/office/residential project planned by FURC1 LLC. The darker orange shows land being sold to FURC1 by the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency. This aerial image was taken before the Greyhound bus station just south of the CRA land was demolished and before the start of construction of the Mirrorton rental community to the east.

Like many CRA projects, the city’s investment is seen as a loss leader to spur nearby private investment, improving both a blighted area and the city’s tax base.

In this case, the CRA bought the property in 2006 for $560,000 and has invested an estimated $140,000 in demolition and maintenance. It is currently appraised at $94,000, Drumgo said.

Under a development agreement that was approved 6-0 by the City Commission on Monday (Commissioner Phillip Walker was absent), the city is offering incentives including up to $144,000 in waived fees and development costs; the city is also offering partial tax increment financing, a development tool that diverts property taxes, for up to 10 years, if certain development targets are met.

“So of the $200,000 (that FURC1 is paying for the property), we’ll send back $144,000 in order to obtain the $25 million” that the project is estimated to generate in taxable value, Drumgo told city commissioners when they previewed the agreement on Friday. The project is expected to yield $225,000 in yearly tax revenue if completed in its entirety, Drumgo said.

Presentation made to the City Commission last Friday by the CRA’s Drumgo:

FURC1 proposes building 159,000 square feet of commercial space, offices and apartments in three phases. It will front Massachusetts Avenue between Bay Street and Peachtree Street. Immediately to the east is the 305-unit Mirrorton rental community that’s under construction.

The conceptual drawings shown to city commissioners show four-story buildings with a design paying tribute to the Hotel Thelma, which stood downtown from 1913 to 1962. While the drawings are not necessarily the final look, the historic hotel will remain the model for the ultimate design, according to Jim Edwards, a historic preservationist who works with Fancelli.

Rendering by The Lunz Group / WMB-ROI shows a view from Massachusetts Avenue looking east down Oak Street.

FURC1 will have flexibility in how much space is used for commercial/retail, office and residential, and those decisions will be driven by market conditions, Drumgo told commissioners.

As many as 120 apartments could be placed on the upper floors of the buildings, he said.

Commissioners were particularly interested in the possibility of a small grocery store being included. The architects’ rendering shows a bodega at the northeast corner of Oak Street and Massachusetts Avenue, and Drumgo explained that the project could include a small market of less than 10,000 square feet to serve nearby residents, including people who will live in Mirrorton.

There is no grocery tenant yet, according to Edwards, who also said a coffee shop could be a potential tenant to serve a growing base of downtown residents.

The lots at Massachusetts Avenue and Oak Street that the CRA plans to sell to FURC1 LLC.

If there are no delays, construction could begin as soon as November, Drumgo said.

But before the city closes on the property, FURC1 needs to complete purchase of the Greyhound property and have permits, a construction contract and a construction schedule.

The CRA solicited proposals for the two lots in March 2019 after several companies expressed interest in them; only FURC1 submitted a proposal, and in April 2019 the City Commission authorized the CRA to negotiate a sale.

The agreement with the city gives FURC1 the opportunity to lease 50 parking spaces at market race if the city builds a contemplated parking garage behind the police station.

The agreement between the City of Lakeland and FURC1 LLC:

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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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