A proposal to replace the city block that contains the Oak Street parking lot with 200 apartments and townhomes, 420 parking places and 1,600 square feet of commercial space represents “the first residential project in Lakeland — in Polk County — that has this density and structured parking built in.”
That’s according to architect Steve Boyington of The Lunz Group, who also told the Downtown Lakeland Downtown Authority board, “Given the environment that the Fed is creating and construction costs (are) creating since this project started, it’s an increasing challenge.”
In addition to parking for the residents, around 100 ground-level parking places will be available to the public to replace some of the parking currently provided by the surface lot on the block bounded by Kentucky Avenue on the east, Tennessee Avenue on the west, Oak Street on the south and Peachtree Street on the north. (See a map.)
Developers Onicx Group of Tampa will accommodate all of that with a donut approach, Boyington said. The outside of the donut will include four seven-story buildings containing the apartments and street-level townhomes; a commercial strip with a continuous arcade appearance will face Oak Street.
The inside of the donut will be three floors of parking topped by a courtyard that’s open to the sky with recreational amenities for residents. It is anticipated that the public parking will be similar to the current lot: a mix of leased spaces and hourly parking with free public use on nights and weekends.
The LDDA board reviewed the preliminary design last Thursday and gave it unanimous approval.
Onicx’ next step will be to make some adjustments based on feedback from the LDDA and the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency, and then present them to the LDDA and CRA boards for final design approval, according to Onicx Vice President of Development Eric Lindsey. Then they’ll submit development plans and apply for building permits, he said.
The goal is to begin construction next summer and complete the project in about two years, he said.
Onicx won development rights in a CRA bidding process last year after a previous developer who had been selected withdrew, citing COVID impacts and “investor trepidation.”
The property is currently owned by the Lakeland CRA; city commissioners voted 6-1 in May to sell it to Onicx for $1.83 million.
Onicx Vice President of Investments Arjun Choudhary told the LDDA board last week that he doesn’t foresee any challenges to the project other than the potential “outlier” of the capital markets.
City Commissioner Mike Musick, a member of the LDDA board, praised the project as a catalyst that other developers may follow: “Being able to make a project like this work is such a starter for the rest of the developers out there that see what’s going on downtown.”
Boyington sought and received the endorsement of the LDDA board for one element that he thinks may be questioned by the city’s development staff. The city staff had sought 11-foot sidewalks, as seen in much of downtown, he said. But typically tree grates take up two to three feet of sidewalk, reducing effective pedestrian space to eight or nine feet.
The Onicx proposal calls for nine-foot sidewalks unobstructed by trees, he said; the trees would be planted between the parallel parking spaces instead of along the sidewalk. “We didn’t follow the letter, but we believe we followed the spirit.”
Renderings in the slide presentation Boyington presented show a potential cafe and a mural in the commercial strip facing Oak Street. But Boyington said it’s too early to know if what specific businesses will be there, and the mural is still hypothetical.
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