Downtown Building Gets Design Concept Approval

Should the city of Lakeland approve plans for a single-user office building on a prime parcel overlooking Lake Mirror — or should it take a long-term view and hold out for a potential multi-use project more in keeping with the vision of downtown planners?

That was the question posed by Lakeland Downtown Development Authority board member Greg Sanoba this morning before the board voted 4-1 to approve the design concept for an eight-story office building/parking garage planned by Summit Consulting.

Sanoba cast the sole vote against a motion to approve the design subject to architects The Lunz Group returning for approval of a detailed landscaping plan. The other board members told Sanoba, in effect, that the decision on whether to take this offer or wait for another one rests with City Commission, not the LDDA.

For background, see yesterday’s article about Summit Consulting’s plans for the building.

Summit, a workers’ compensation management firm, confirmed Wednesday that it is holding discussions with the city on a possible downtown office building; the firm’s name was not mentioned during this morning’s meeting.

The company has been negotiating with City Manager Tony Delgado to buy the 0.9-acre “Old Fire Department Lot” next to Allen Kryger Park at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Cedar Street/Main Street.

The project still depends on City Commission approval of any land deal and a development agreement following a public hearing. No date has been set for such a meeting yet.

The city-owned lot housed Lakeland’s Fire Station No. 1 until 1995. It is now used for parking.
Lakeland Fire Department The Massachusetts Avenue side of the Central Fire station that was built in the early 1960s and torn down in the mid-1990s.

After Sanoba asked whether it was best to wait until somebody offers a multi-use project, other board members said, in essence, their task is to weigh in on the design concept, not whether to wait for a multi-purpose project.

“That’s not what we’re here for; we’re here for design review,” said Tom Anderson, who had made the motion to approve the design.

“I agree with Greg’s concern about multi-use, but unfortunately we’re not part of that conversation,” board member Grant Miller said.

Board Co-Chair Jeff Donalson said he was uncertain about the idea of a single-user building to begin with. But his concerns were mitigated by the fact that at least 150 parking places will be available to the public on nights and weekends and that he recognizes the difficulty of building on an awkwardly shaped lot.

Noting that the land has been vacant for nearly a quarter century and that retail is uncertain there, Donalson said the proposal might represent the highest and best use of the property.

Board member Eric “Bro” Belvin said that the desire for multiple uses on the property is answered in his mind by the developer’s willingness to open the garage to the public during non-business hours.

Also voting in favor was Jim Edwards, who is not on the LDDA board but was appointed to the LDDA’s Design Review Committee considering the project. The other two LDDA board members, Bretta Christakos and Scott Franklin, did not attend this morning’s meeting.

Attorney Tim Campbell, representing the developer, responded to Sanoba by acknowledging that a lot of people desire a multiple-use facility but “there are some things we may want that are not necessarily feasible economically … We think that adding 450 to 500 employees will help energize an already dynamic downtown.”

He also said that by keeping the parking onsite, there may be potential for multi-use facilities on other properties that might have otherwise been used for parking.

(Our associate Allison Guinn reported in March that an early phase of negotiations included the possibility of building a parking garage across Massachusetts Avenue on property currently used for surface parking by The Terrace Hotel.)

Belvin’s main concern was whether the landscaping proposed for the Massachusetts Avenue side of the building would be as mature as depicted in artist’s renderings.

Architect Brad Lunz had said that trees and a rain garden along Massachusetts would provide the shape and shadowing sought in downtown design guidelines.

The company wants an enhanced landscape with a “shady, bucolic feel,” he said, but there’s not yet a formal plan from a landscape architect.

Lunz offered to return to the LDDA board for its final design approval once a landscape plan is in place, and the board accepted the offer.

In his presentation, this morning, Lunz sought to allay concerns expressed in an analysis of the design by LDDA Executive Director Julie Townsend. One of her main concerns was that the plan lacks pedestrian interactivity.

Lunz pointed out this morning that the building’s planners envision most of the pedestrian activity will be along the north side of the building, which borders Kryger Park, and the Lake Mirror side of the building.

Massachusetts Avenue historically has been dominated by institutional uses, not retail, from Lake Morton to the CSX railroad tracks, so it’s not been a major pedestrian corridor.

As a result, they designed the most engaging visual interest on the lake side of the building.

In addition, city representatives have insisted that the plans leave room for a “highline” pedestrian walkway along the lake and park sides of the building.

Lunz said his firm was happy to do that since architects there drew earlier plans pro bono for a highline near Lake Mirror as a demonstration project.

A detail from the highline concept shows a pedestrian walkway along the lake side of the Old Fire Station Lot. The concept was created in 2017 by WMB-ROI before it merged with The Lunz Group.

Lunz also said the building provides connectivity to the downtown core since employees leaving at lunch and in the evening will exit through doors a short walk from Main Street.

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