Lakeland’s town square may be getting a facelift and city leaders want your input about how you’d like to use Munn Park and what you want to see included.

At a public meeting on Tuesday evening, the city unveiled renderings created by Pennoni, an engineering firm with an office in Tampa, that include the possibilities of:

  • A central grassy lawn that can be used for everything from art shows to concerts and picnicking to yoga.
  • A shaded performance area and food trucks/permanent kitchens near the fountain at the north end of the park
  • A dog park in the northwest corner
  • Swings under the oak trees
  • Giant checker and chess boards

“It is a concept that brings revitalization to the park. It gives an opportunity around the perimeter of what I’m going to just call ‘light recreational amenities’ that hopefully will draw people down to Munn Park,” City Manager Shawn Sherrouse told about four dozen people who came to a public meeting Tuesday’s meeting at the Magnolia Room. “And instead of it being that passive public space than it is today, we want it to be a more vibrant, active location that our citizens can come and enjoy.”  

Ted Kempton with Pennoni encouraged those in attendance and those reading about the plans to get involved and give their input.

A second public meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Magnolia Building on Lake Mirror.

“So you’ve got a park in a great part of town and what we’re really trying to do is create a plan where it is constantly in use,” Kempton said. “There’s not a right or wrong way to do this, per se, but this is going to be your part for your community.”

Conceptual renderings: potential park elements

Click on any image to view a slideshow with larger views:

The park is older than the city. The park was established in 1884, while the city was incorporated the next year. Abraham Munn, the town’s founder and park‘s namesake, dedicated the city block in 1889 between Kentucky Avenue and Tennessee Street, bordered on the south by Main Street and on the north by the railroad tracks to forever remain in public ownership.

It originally had public sidewalks and benches, a pavilion that doubled as town hall, a drinking well and a train station on the park’s north side. Fires destroyed several iterations of train stations until a new station was built elsewhere.

In 1909 and 1910, the United Daughters of the Confederacy raised money to place a Confederate monument in the park, topped off by a mass-produced marble Confederate soldier statue. After much debate and controversy, city leaders voted in 2017 to move the monument and in 2018 decided to put it in Veterans Memorial Park, just three blocks west, with other war and service-member monuments.

Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bob Donahay said the monument would not be returned, despite multiple comments on social media.

“Now we’re going to see what we can take the downtown to. It’s changing. It’s ever-evolving. It’s more restaurants. It’s more festive,” Donahay said. “We want to make Munn Park the best it could possibly be.”

There had been talk about a carousel, but without a benefactor to help pay for it, the upkeep made it cost-prohibitive.

“To be honest with you, though, we look at elements that we could do, what we can achieve through our funding, and that’s gonna be a part of it,” Donahay said. “There might be something very extravagant like a carousel that might not make it, but then again, what else is going to take its place?”

Donahay also assured people the engraved bricks bought for loved ones and placed in the circle over the years will remain in the park, but moved to a different area. Donahay said one woman called him and asked that the city remove a brick she had bought for her husband – who is now her ex-husband. He was willing to comply.

Conceptual renderings: potential activities

Click on any image to view a slideshow with larger views:

Roberta St. Clair, 68, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said she wants the park to be utilized by children.

“I see that it’s going to be very much children-oriented,” she said, noting that she submitted her form, checking off the oversized chess and checkers games. “I think that will encourage community.”

Jose Vazquez, 36, said he liked the designs he saw because he feels the park is currently under-utilized by residents.

“There’s a place for people to go, but … it kind of doesn’t serve any one good purpose very well,” Vazquez said. “Having some intentionality to it I think is a great thing — all of these ideas with active spaces, different uses in the park.”

His son, 8-year-old Noah Vazquez, said he liked the egg-shaped swings and also a colorful, Instagram-ready #Lakeland sign. (Editor’s note: At LkldNow, we’re partial to #Lkld.)

“I like that to take pictures on — sit on it to take pictures,” Noah said.

Another area that piqued his interest was the one set aside for parkour, which utilizes ramps, walls, poles, ladders, monkey bars and tunnels to encourage climbing, crawling, swinging and jumping. The parkour area is meant to be used repetitively.

“Kids use these movements to creatively navigate and play in the spaces around them, giving them a sense of control over themselves and their environment,” read one of the renderings.

Christopher Olson, chairman of the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board, said the board made recommendations that included nods to historic elements.

“I think the main thing was getting a permanent structure on the north side, ideally reminiscent of a train station, just because that’s the history of the park,” Olson said.

He noted that one design included a food-stall area that looked like box cars. He added that the permanent building could be an open-air structure, with walls on tracks so it could be closed off for inclement weather and safety issues. He also hoped it would have electricity so extension cords would not have to continue to be run across streets, along with public restrooms, something many people said on the city’s Facebook page were needed.

“Some of the other recommendations or suggestion were maybe some historic placards around the park. Maybe some quadrants with different functionalities in those quadrants,” Olson said. “And plants and flowers.”

Kevin Barmby, 7, a student at Blake Academy, thought hard when asked what he wanted.

“A rock wall,” he finally answered, explaining that he likes to climb them. He then accurately described the attributes of at least 26 different animals.

Proposed active recreation elements for the park include:

  • Bocce Ball
  • Ping Pong
  • Billiards
  • Putting Area
  • Giant Chess / Checkers Set
  • Cornhole / Bag Toss
  • Pod Swings
  • Ladder Toss Game
  • Shuffleboard

Proposed activity areas include:

  • Front lawn
  • Tensile fabric shade structure / Special events stage
  • Concession area (permanent Conex boxes or food trucks)
  • Bench seating on the perimeter of the front lawn
  • Planters with colorful plantings
  • Enhanced landscaping at park entrances
  • Enclosed dog park with artificial turf
  • Parkour course with artificial turf
  • Public Art Opportunities
  • Historical Markers

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Kimberly C. Moore

Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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3 Comments

  1. So, the idea is to spend more money on removing expensive paver paths to the center of the park? Not to mention, these paths help people cross the park daily. While we are at it, let’s add a bunch of items nobody will ever use like a giant chess board. Oh, don’t forget that we have to be #cool with our #Lakeland sign. What a complete waste!

  2. I agree with Drew. We don’t need a dog park area. The chess & checkers will be useless. The joinery is down the street for food not to mention all the food establishments already surrounding the park. It is a very nice park to take a relaxing stroll through now. Maybe a few more bench would be nice but come on ppl. Don’t fix what ain’t broken. Spend the money somewhere else. Every space doesn’t need to be for recreation. This park is senior and relaxing

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