Munn Park was Lakeland’s first town center when it was incorporated in 1881, eventually boasting a bandstand and a train station back then.
In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised $1,750, including $250 from the City Commission, to erect a Confederate Soldier Monument. It was dedicated on the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1910 and sat in the center for 109 years.
As a wave of movements to rid town and courthouse squares of Confederate monuments and statues rolled through the country, Lakeland’s statue became a focus. Some residents said its presence was a prominent reminder of slavery, the Jim Crow era and Ku Klux Klan activity.
In 2017, the City Commission voted to move the statue to an undetermined locale and the next year, they decided to move it to Veterans’ Memorial Park. In 2019, a crane hoisted the statue and plinth onto a flatbed truck and drove it several blocks to the park on the west side of RP Funding Center.
Munn Park’s center has been a blank canvas since then, ripe for ideas as to what should fill the void. Now city leaders want official input from the public as to what to place in the large circle surrounded by trees and park benches.
“Consulting park planners want to hear from you on what active recreation uses the public would like to see in Munn Park,” city spokesman Kevin Cook wrote in a press release announcing two public forums on the topic to be held in the Magnolia Building on Lake Mirror at 702 E. Orange St.:
- Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, 5–7 p.m.
- Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, 3–7 p.m.
“Munn Park is the front lawn of the community,” said Lakeland Deputy Director of Parks Pam Page. “We are working with Pennoni, a landscape architecture and engineering consultant, in bringing that front lawn to life. The firm will share come concepts they have created during the two forums with hopes that the design elements will spur additional public input.” (Sneak peeks of the artists’ renderings of what the city is currently considering are not yet available for the public.)
Lakeland City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said he is hoping Lakeland residents will get involved in the decision-making process.
“I really want the public to take ownership of Munn Park, and I invite the community to share their thoughts on what recreational elements they would like to see in Munn Park.”
Following a professional development trip to Carmel, Ind., recently, Sherrouse brought back ideas and concepts that were part of that community’s pedestrian-based planned development.
“Carmel incorporated a number of active uses around their town square, and I immediately thought about Lakeland and our own downtown,” said Sherrouse. “We continue to look at ways to improve the experience our citizens and guests have when they visit downtown. The goal is to have year-round activity with a mixture of recreational uses in Munn Park. Over the past few years, we have introduced some really cool elements that helped create a downtown identity and we want that same excitement to spill over into our town square.”
Sherrouse said some of the things he saw included outdoor table tennis, a small dog park, park equipment that encourages interaction, and an area to be used for community events and concerts.
The city already invested in decorative string lights crisscrossing downtown streets, installed drip lights in the trees at Munn Park and expanded sidewalks to allow for more outdoor dining.
An article in House Beautiful magazine highlighted some uses for town squares. They include a:
- Christmas and weekend markets with permanent stalls
- Bandstand or gazebo
- Fountain with a statue
- Garden with statue
- Clock tower
- Shade trees
- Shopping stalls
- Life-size gameboard
- Artistic sculpture garden
In Europe, some town squares include what’s known as a glockenspiel, a clock with mechanical dancing figures. Some New York City parks have chessboards and, in Miami, there are domino tables.
Talk swirled of a carousel at one point, but Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said the maintenance and repairs would be cost prohibitive.
Lakeland Downtown Development Authority Director Julie Townsend was one of those hoping for a carousel but said she is now waiting to see what residents and city officials decide.
“LDDA is open to activities that bring people to the park,” Townsend said. “We support getting the public’s input and look forward to hearing the public’s ideas.”
On Thursday afternoon, Jared Henderson, 33, and his wife Shametria Henderson, 30, brought their two children to Munn Park to see holiday decorations, including lighted arches, toy soldiers and Santa Claus.
“Probably a big tree for the season right now,” Jared Henderson said when asked what he would like to see in the park’s center.
“They should put a bigger water fountain,” Shametria Henderson said.
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