Downtown Lakeland’s First Friday and Food Truck Rally events will live on even though the group that organized them is disbanding. The board of the Downtown Development Authority today agreed to take over those events from the soon-to-be-defunct Downtown Lakeland Partnership.

LDDA Executive Director Julie Townsend hailed the move as a way to reduce duplication and consolidate efforts to market downtown Lakeland.


Townsend will negotiate with Lori Long, who was hired as DLP’s executive director in July, to join the LDDA staff as event coordinator.

LDDA will also take over the DLP’s digital assets, including its mailing list, Facebook page and website.

What’s the difference between the two organizations? Broadly:
  • The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority was created by the Florida Legislature to stimulate economic development downtown and is funded largely by a share of real estate taxes collected from downtown property owners.
  • The Downtown Lakeland Partnership is a merchant’s association funded mostly by event revenues (vendor fees and sponsorships) but also by memberships.

The DLP board asked the LDDA to take over the events when the organization last month announced plans to disband after discovering it had lost tax-exempt status and owes back taxes.

Mark Parker, who became DLP board chair last year, said today that the organization is taking several steps to make sure its obligations are met:

  • Merchants will continue to be reimbursed for “downtown dollars” used until June, by which time the existing ones will have expired.
  • The organization’s post office box will be maintained for 18 months.
  • Financial records will be maintained for two years.
  • The organization will assist the LDDA in the transition of events.

Townsend estimates that it will cost the LDDA $115,129 in the next year to take over the events and estimates income from those events at $130,000.

Merchants won’t pay membership fees, so LDDA will forego that revenue source. Membership fees yielded $24,000 to $28,000 a year, Parker said.

The DLP has focused on building event revenue by attracting more vendors to First Friday, Parker said. LDDA Chair Tom Anderson said the organization’s new events coordinator will be able to concentrate even more on attracting vendors and sponsors since the job will be less focused on administration.

City Manager Tony Delgado, who attended this morning’s meeting, said city government supports the transfer of the events to the LDDA. “These events have become part of the fabric of downtown,” he said, noting the city will continue a practice of giving a break on fees for the large events.

DLP Treasurer Kate Lake, owner of My Office and More, asked the LDDA board to consider releasing the DLP’s mailing list, website and Facebook page in the event a new merchants association forms in the future.

Townsend pointed out that the mailing list would remain available as a public record, and in the end the LDDA board did not agree to Lake’s request.

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Barry Friedman founded 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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