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Howard Wiggs usually wears a suit and tie when he represents the city of Lakeland at officials functions such as ground-breaking ceremonies. But this evening the mayor wore jeans — because this was no ordinary groundbreaking.

Instead of digging with a shovel, Wiggs climbed into the cab of an industrial-size excavator. With several hundred people watching, he dumped a load of dirt to signify the start of construction of the Catapult 2.0 business incubator.

The actual construction is still a month or two away and is expected to last 12 to 18 months. Marcobay Construction of Lakeland has been selected as the contractor.

The first order of business will be to create an inner steel shell just inside the fragile walls of the 93-year-old former Lakeland Cash Feed.

When it’s completed, the structure overlooking Lake Mirror will house a co-working space for budding entrepreneurs, a large commercial kitchen and a maker space for artisans.

Tonight’s ground breaking attracted an estimated 400 people and featured several food trucks, music by Brian Sutherland and Josh Dampier and pastries from Born and Bread Bakehouse.

Catapult is a project of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, a privately funded organization devoted to attracting new businesses to Lakeland.

The initial $13 million to renovate the building and run Catapult was contributed by three anonymous donors via the GiveWell Community Foundation with the cooperation of the City of Lakeland.

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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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