The Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency initiated 105 projects in the city’s three redevelopment districts in 2021 and completed 49. They ranged from murals in Dixieland to The Well entrepreneur center on Parker Street to affordable housing projects at Twin Lakes and Vermont Place.
“The projects spanned from leveraging $300,000 in professional design services, which resulted in $4.5 million in future funding from Florida Department of Transportation to reconstruct a corridor identified as a community concern, to supporting the major renovation of a building once occupied by a family business for nearly eight decades,” according to the 15-page 2021 LCRA Annual Report presented to the Lakeland City Commission last week by Alis Drumgo, who is both the city’s assistant director of community and economic development and the LCRA manager.
View the Lakeland CRA annual report here or at the end of this article.
Ahead for 2022 and beyond, Drumgo told commissioners, is emphasis on developing areas around the RP Funding Center, east of Munn Park and the western reaches of downtown, including a “significant development” that “will come before you in a month or so.”
Drumgo and his staff manage the LCRA, which coordinates the city’s three community redevelopment districts: Downtown, Dixieland and Midtown.
Under Florida’s Community Redevelopment Act of 1969, cities and counties can create community redevelopment districts to “address blight … and enhance the tax base” through Tax Increment Financing (TIF).
TIF is property tax revenue above that is generated by “base”-year property values. Any increases in property tax valuations after the “base assessment” are directed to the LCRA for use within that redevelopment district.
There are more than 200 CRAs statewide with 14 in Polk County, including Lakeland’s three. The city created the LCRA in 1979 to manage the Downtown redevelopment district. It added the Midtown and Dixieland districts in 2001.
Lakeland’s three CRA districts combined to generate $7.636 million in TIF revenues in 2021 while spending $6.225 million in grants and incentives, according to the annual report, reflecting skyrocketing property values across the city. As a result, all three reported significant increases in TIF in 2021.
Properties within the 555-acre downtown CRA district had an assessed valuation of $67.621 million in 1979. As of October 2021, it had a $389.267 billion valuation, up 476 percent over its 43-year existence.
Midtown’s 4,463 acres — the city’ s largest redevelopment district — was assessed at $634 million in 2001. As of October 2021, its assessed value was $1.357 billion, up 114 percent.
In Dixieland, the smallest CRA district at 73 acres, base value in 2001 was assessed at $46.336 million. Its valuation as of October was $58.367 million, up 26 percent over the last 20 years.
The annual LCRA report, titled “Relate. Renovate. Reinvigorate,” breaks down each of the three districts by projects initiated and feature developments.
The CRA initiated 12 downtown projects in 2021, completing two. Properties within the 555-acre district generated $1.73 million in TIF, which was the lion’s share of its $2.133 million in revenues last year. Of $1.828 million in expenses, $1.167 million was spent on “economic development invectives.”
Among recent CRA-boosted developments are Mirrorton apartments, The Joinery artisan food court and the Federal Building, which houses a restaurant and a bar. In 2021, Broadway Real Estate, which will receive $483,171.88 in reimbursements over the next five years, developed its 90-unit The Gardens apartment complex on South Lake Avenue.
According to the report, “2021 brought the approval of two apartment buildings on Lime Street and Lake Avenue. Now, a 22-unit apartment complex is under construction on East Lemon Street” to be called Royal Oak.
Among projects the CRA assisted was the conversion of Nathan’s Men’s Store, a downtown institution at the corner of Main Street and Kentucky Avenue for 78 years until owner Harris Estroff retired in 2021.
JB Partners Realty purchased the 9,000-square-foot property and with a $55,000 infill adaptive use grant from the CRA the building was updated and the first floor now houses Wauchula State Bank and a banquet room for next door’s Nineteen61 restaurant. The long-vacant second floor houses offices of engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates.
Property west of the RP Funding Center has remained relatively untouched but, “as land becomes more and more finite” developers are “more interested in land around RP Funding Center,” Drumgo said.
The CRA’s goal is “to grow strategically west of the RP Funding Center” and to complement the opening of Bonnet Springs Park, Drumgo told commissioners.
The CRA initiated 44 projects and completed 28 in 2021 within the sprawling district, which includes “21 active and engaged registered residential neighborhoods” east and north of downtown, anchored by the medical district, Joker Marchant Stadium, and the redeveloped Mass Market.
The Midtown CRA district generated $5.085 million in income in 2021 with nearly $4.416 million in TIF revenues. It spent $4.24 million, including $521,820 awarded in financial incentives to affordable housing developers in Midtown, according to the report.
Among featured developments in the district is The Well, the former Lighthouse Ministries building at the corner of East Parker Street and North Tennessee Avenue, which was converted into a 4,700-square-foot small business resource center and co-working space after a $1.3 million renovation. It opened in January.
The CRA has been working on the area, pock-marked with vacant lots and plagued by a “history of disinvestment,” for several years, cobbling together small, mostly empty lots in an effort to spur investment interest in “a large-scale project” in the Midtown planning area’s Parker Street neighborhood.
Over the last decade, the agency has financed renovations of the Tax Collector’s Building, Nujak’s office and the Parker Street Ministries campus; acquired, redeveloped and opened Mass Market in 2017; and redeveloped 2,356-square-foot Crystal’s World of Dance at 801 N. Massachusetts Ave.
Weaving together contiguous properties that can be packaged for cohesive development in the Parker Street area is part of the city’s Land Bank program, an inventory of property that can be transformed for affordable housing.
The CRA sells this land to developers at 120% of assessed value, if they agree to develop and sell it to someone who qualifies for affordable housing. The intent of the program is to replace vacant infill lots that the city has been maintaining with new low-to moderate-income homebuyers.
Drumgo told commissioners the city had “permit-ready plans” ready for varied types of multifamily housing for the infill lots in its Land Bank program that can save developers time and money.
He said the CRA in 2022 will continue “chipping away” at encouraging housing development in an area previously dominated by “industrial uses and car lots.”
The CRA initiated 29 projects and completed 19 in 2021 in the 73-acre Dixieland district, which mostly straddles South Florida Avenue.
The Dixieland CRA district generated $416,263 in revenues last year, including $299,301 in TIF. It spent $176,891.21 in 2021, according to the report.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s road realignment test, which temporarily reduced vehicle travel lanes on South Florida Avenue, ends this year.
With traffic slowed and restricted by the road diet, the CRA created an “art infusion” program that commissioned 20 murals to be painted on commercial properties along South Florida Avenue, and downtown between George Jenkins Boulevard and Lenox Street.