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Should the city of Lakeland donate undeveloped land at the northeast corner of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue to the Lakeland Economic Development Center’s Catapult  business incubator? That question dominated a City Commission agenda study session Friday, with Commissioner Justin Troller suggesting the city hold on to the property and let Catapult use it but city administrators saying the land deal has always been part of the city’s partnership on the business incubator project.

The issue is scheduled for further discussion and a possible decision Tuesday at the City Commission’s 10 a.m. business session.

The proposal before the commission, which you’ll find below, would give Catapult three city-owned parcels near the Lakeland Cash Feed building, which the LEDC purchased to transform into Catapult 2.0.

Two of the parcels are small and non-controversial. The discussion centered around the 20,000-square-foot corner lot at 203 N. Massachusetts Ave. that will be used initially for Catapult parking.

[box]Disclosure: I’m a co-worker at Catapult, which means I pay a small amount monthly to work there and take part in entrepreneur-education programs.[/box]

A key issue regarding that lot is a “reverter clause” that would return the property to city ownership in five years if Catapult is not operated as a business incubator.

That clause rankled LEDC officials, who feel the city has been less accommodating with Catapult than some other recent high-profile projects, Mayor Howard Wiggs said. “They didn’t want the five years at all,” he said. “They’re ready to walk away from this if they need to.”

Explaining why the five-year reverter clause was “almost a deal killer,” Wiggs said, “As they’ve gotten into this they’ve found out there are more substantial structural problems than what they anticipated.” He didn’t elaborate on the relationship between structural problems and ownership status of the corner lot.

A key assumption at the meeting was that the corner property will ultimately be sold for commercial development. Once that happens, Troller said, expect LEDC to come to the city looking for more Catapult parking.

But Commissioner Edie Yates said she feels the LEDC’s focus on attracting industry makes it better suited than the city to find a suitable developer.

A good place to start in understanding the discussion is Christopher Guinn’s meeting coverage, which was the top story on The Ledger’s front page today.

The rest of this article includes:

  • Audio from Friday’s meeting. It starts shortly after City Attorney Tim McCausland began introducing the topic. Apologies for the spotty audio quality.
  • A portion of today’s Ledger coverage that includes a map showing the affected parcels
  • Curated tweets from yesterday’s meeting
  • A document describing the land donation that the City Commission will discuss Tuesday
  • And for those who stay to the end, a cool graphic contrasting the original Catapult design submitted to the city with the one approved last month.

Listen to Friday’s discussion

Voices in order of first speaking: City Attorney Tim McCausland (0:00), Commissioner Phillip Walker (2:25), Commissioner Justin Troller (3:29), Commissioner Bill Read (5:40), Mayor Howard Wiggs (9:20), Deputy City Manager Brad Johnson (15:42), Commissioner Edie Yates (19:09). Several key players were absent: Commissioners Jim Malless and Don Selvage and City Manager Tony Delgado.

The affected properties

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Twitter coverage

View “undefined” on Storify

Proposal the City Commission will consider Tuesday

Comparing Development Proposals

Click around the image below (or use the white slider in the middle) to compare the original proposal to transform Lakeland Cash Feed into Catapult 2.0 with the revised design approved recently by the Lakeland historic board’s Design Review Committee.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com 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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