Leaders at Polk County health care institutions, including Watson Clinic in Lakeland, discuss plans they are making for an expected surge in COVID-19 patients: intake procedures, prepping exclusive areas, extending equipment, safeguarding patients and staff.
ALSO: On Monday at 3, executives from Watson Clinic and Lakeland Regional Health update city commissioners on their plans; watch live on the city’s YouTube or cable channels.
Add Lakeland Regional Health to the list of providers where patients can use computers, smartphones and tablets to conduct video meetings with primary care and pediatric professionals. The doxy.me system the hospital uses requires no downloads of software or apps | Learn more
- TESTING: With long wait times to get COVID-19 test results, there’s a huge disparity between the number of pending tests reported by local organizations and the modest numbers included in the Florida Department of Health’s twice-a-day reports.
- HOSPITALS: A new real-time website shows how many beds are available at various hospitals throughout Florida. At this writing, it shows 37.4% of Polk hospital beds are available and 26.21% of ICU beds are available | Check the site
- SUN ‘N FUN: This year’s Sun’n Fun Fly-In, previously postponed until May, is now postponed until next April and its sponsoring organization is planning to offer online events.
People in Lakeland and the rest of Polk County aren’t going as far when they leave the house, now that the coronavirus has hit, but we’re still logging longer distances each day than most any other large county in the U.S. More
Watson Clinic South’s new urgent care center is getting 20 to 25 patients a day with COVID-19 symptoms and can test around 10 of them for the disease under the CDC’s criteria, Dr. Jarrett Gregory tells Bay News 9. The criteria change often, he said. “What we’re looking for over last few days are individuals with fever, dry cough, travel, if they’ve had known exposure with individuals who tested positive,” Gregory said. Also, patients older than 55 years of age with chronic conditions or compromised immune systems are also often tested.
A few hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide safer-at-home order and after hearing constituent pleas to maintain public safety, the Lakeland City Commission today voted 6-1 to close all city parks, including walking trails like the one around Lake Hollingsworth, effective 12:01 a.m. Friday. More
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order for Floridians unless they are providing essential services or performing essential activities. “There are some businesses that are non-essential, which won’t be able to have people congregate inside,” DeSantis said. “But they will be able to deliver.” Florida joins 30 other states with similar orders.
The Citrus Connections announced today it will reduce bus services starting Monday because ridership has dropped and some drivers are choosing to self-isolate during the coronavirus crisis. While the announcement listed no specific routes, it suggests riders check for updated information via: More
City commissioners are holding a special meeting at 3 p.m. today to reconsider the pending re-opening of some city parks and discuss potential penalties. More
Following the City Commission decision on Monday to reopen some of the city parks that were closed last week to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the city has released a list of facilities that will be open starting Thursday. More
Karl Strader, who became pastor at Lakeland’s First Assembly of God in 1966 and expanded it into the multi-thousand-member Carpenter’s Home Church, died Monday at age 91. ALSO: The Ledger | Family-placed obituary | YouTube: Charisma Today’s founder remembers growing up in Strader’s church.
With spring break fading into distance learning for Polk public school students this week, the school district has this message for families: “Right now, we are asking parents and students to be patient. Your teacher will contact you with details about how distance learning will take place in their classes.” | ALSO: News Channel 8
One week after closing most city parks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Lakeland City Commissioners today moved to reopen some by Thursday. Parks that will reopen include open-air facilities that commissioners feel can accommodate social distancing: trails, tennis courts, dog parks, boat ramps and the Cleveland Heights Golf Course. More
The coronavirus pandemic will peak in Florida around May 3 and tail off in the first weeks of June, according to projections from the University of Washington. If Floridians adhere to strict social-distancing measures, the state should have enough hospital beds but nevertheless faces a shortage of intensive care space, the institute predicts. More
A professor at Florida Southern College wants Billy Townsend’s job. William Allen, 45, has filed to run for the Lakeland-based District 1 seat on the Polk County School Board currently held by Townsend, 48. More
- CITY AND BUSINESSES: An article previewing today’s City Commission meeting may sow some confusion. It starts by saying that Mayor Bill Mutz will recommend the city close all non-essential businesses, based on statements the mayor made on Thursday. However, Mutz later decided not to make that recommendation, saying a policy should be countywide, as LkldNow reported Saturday.
- BUSINESSES: Reporter Gary White takes a look at how social-distancing measures are affecting yoga studios, which are offering classes via live-stream and video, and massage therapy and spa services: most are suspending hands-on visits; some are offering gift cards, facial/body products and virtual services.
Negotiations for Virgin Trains USA to obtain the right-of-way along I-4 it needs for an Orlando-to-Tampa Brightline express rail service are on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic. Local officials hope that the Central Florida rail line would eventually include a Lakeland stop.
- SOCIAL SERVICE orgs responding to the coronavirus emergency include United Way and GiveWell partnering on a new fund, the 2-1-1 hotline for services info, VISTE pivoting, a Facebook grocery network to organize shopping for seniors, YMCA child care services, Explorations V day camp, and a Facebook-based citizens response group
- SCHOOLS in Polk County resume this week with distance learning, and a large focus is getting 60,000 electronic devices to families who need them.
When the Lakeland City Commission meets Monday, it will consider extending the current seven-day closure of city parks, but Mayor Bill Mutz said he no longer plans to seek a one-week stay-at-home order or closure of non-essential businesses for now. More
- FUNERAL homes are responding to social distancing measures by live-streaming ceremonies, which are being limited to 10 people, or holding burials and cremations now with the intent to follow with celebrations of life when conditions are safer.
- BLOOD DONATIONS continue as One Blood donation centers and bloodmobiles remain open.
- FLORIDA: From The Morning Paper’s parent company, USA Today looks at efforts to procure more test kits and the Tallahassee bureau examines lags and shifts in the state’s reporting of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
The company developing a five million-square-foot industrial and business park bordering the Polk Parkway in west Lakeland has hired Whit Duncan, an experienced commercial real estate pro, to manage the project. Parkway Property Investments LLC was joined by another firm in acquiring the 730-acre tract for $10 million late last year. (See an overview of this project starting on page 34 of this document.)
- TESTING: As Lakeland residents experience difficulty being tested for coronavirus because of limited supplies, at least two Fire Department first responders with symptoms were initially denied testing before ultimately getting approved; results were negative for at least one, a department spokeswoman said.
- BUSINESSES: The same article quotes Mayor Bill Mutz saying he will recommend Monday at the City Commission’s next meeting that non-essential businesses close temporarily to prevent the spread of the virus: “When we have surrounding counties issuing stay-at-home decrees, I think we probably should consider it also.” In a video released by the city Thursday, Mutz said that a stay-at-home order for Lakeland will be considered if the number of confirmed cases here rises dramatically.
- GUNS: Sales of firearms and ammo have surged in the last two weeks, local gun shop owners report. Said one: “Whenever people panic, they do two things,” he said. “The first thing is they go buy their necessities — their food, their toilet paper, their water, their gas. And then they buy the items to protect their necessities.”
Music lovers: We plan to transform LkldNow’s live music calendar to a local live-stream music calendar until venues can start hosting performances again. Our calendar isn’t ready, but we do want to let you know about a few local live streams coming up: More
KidsPACK, which provides meals for 1,800 food-insecure children in Polk County, is reaching out to the community for donations of food and other assistance, saying their bulk suppliers are hampered by grocery hoarding | KidsPACK website
Doctors at a Brussels hospital are trying an experimental combination of drugs on Phyllis Benigas, a COVID-19 patient from Lakeland who does missionary work in Belgium along with her husband, Tom, Bay News 9 reports. Tom, who has not been allowed in his wife’s hospital room, is sharing updates on Facebook | Facebook profile
Watson Clinic has initiated online video consultations for patients who are trying to maintain social distance or self-isolate in response to the novel coronavirus. More
City Hall and most other city facilities are closed to the public until late April, but many services remain ongoing and much business can still be conducted online or via phone. The city communications staff put together the following list. (Not surprisingly, word of the closures has generated debate on Facebook, mostly on whether open-air areas should be closed.) More
Publix Super Markets is adding plexiglass barriers at checkout counters, customers and pharmacies in an effort to prevent spread of the coronavirus. More
With Polk public schools scheduled to switch to distance learning next Monday, the school district will be loaning 60,000 devices to families and teachers are spending their spring breaks trying to figure out which remote-teaching tools to use and how to operate them. (Reminder: The Ledger is offering free access to its coronavirus-related coverage.)
Tampa Bay Times political writer William March talks with Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin about his bid to unseat a fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Ross Spano of Valrico. One example of Franklin’s “tough task,” he says, is that Franklin’s announcement prompted endorsements for Spano from the GOP Congress members representing neighboring districts.
Celebrity judge Katy Perry hopped to her feet to applaud when Lakeland’s Kimmy Gabriela finished singing “I’m Here” from “The Color Purple” on Monday night’s “American Idol.” And Perry once again said of the George Jenkins High School senior, “She’s Top 10.”More
Lakeland Regional Health has announced it is curtailing visitors and postponing non-critical elective surgeries as it prepares for the possibility of treating COVID-19 patients. More
Two cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Lakeland, according to a report published by the Florida Department of Health Sunday night. At that time, 11 cases had been confirmed in Polk County. Two more cases were reported this morning, but it’s not clear yet whether either of those is in Lakeland. More
After singing “Stay” by Rhiannon on Sunday night’s “American Idol,” both George Jenkins High School senior Kimmy Gabriela and duet partner Elyjuh Rene made it to the next round — which airs tonight at 8 on ABC. Kimmy will sing first on tonight’s show in a solo performance in front of a live band. Keep reading to view a video that includes part of her performance: More
The popular Circle B Bar nature reserve is among Polk County parks and environmental lands that have been closed as part of the effort to contain spread of the coronavirus. The city of Lakeland’s outdoor parks remain open for now, with the exception of Se7en Wetlands, which is accessed through county lands. More
With demand for groceries increasing at a time when many are losing jobs, Publix Super Markets has announced it plans to hire “thousands,” mostly in distribution centers and stores. More
- KIMMY SINGS: George Jenkins High School senior Kimmy Gabriela performs a duet on tonight’s “American Idol” at 8 on ABC. It was taped months ago and she’ll be watching from home with her self-quarantined family.
- BEER PICK-UP: Swan Brewing is offering drive-up pickup of beer in closed containers and Brew Hub is going with take-out, under new rules. (The article doesn’t mention it, but other local businesses are offering takeout or drive-through alcohol; check Facebook pages for your favorite spots.)
- COVID-19 COUNT: Polk County had 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at last report, with 135 test results returned. (Four of the 10 are hospitalized, according to the Department of Health’s interactive map.)
Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered restaurants throughout Florida to halt dine-in service, leaving takeout and delivery as options. Alcohol can now be ordered for off-premise consumption.
LOCAL: Check updates on Lakeland restaurants via the Lakeland Food Group on Facebook and the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce
With brick-and-mortar movie theaters closed because of coronavirus concerns, business is booming at Lakeland’s Silver Moon Drive-In. “A different type of customer is honestly coming in,” Chip Sawyer, the President of Sun South Theaters, said | Schedule
- COUNT: The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Polk has risen to nine, including an 8-year-boy who had contact with another confirmed case.
- COURTS: Court proceedings in Bartow are now limited to essential hearings. The clerk of court’s office is closed to the public, shutting down passport applications and marriage licenses. Many transactions are available online | Clerk’s office online portal
- CITY: When city commissioners meet on Monday at 3, they’ll consider closing more facilities and switching to virtual meetings instead of in-person gatherings.
- ELDERS: Fearing the state’s ban on nursing home visits would subject her 103-year-old mother to isolation, Mary Ann DeLoach now visits via cellphone and watches her mom through an exterior window at Highlands Lake Center.
Six Lakeland Regional Health staff members who came into contact with a COVID-19 patient have been asked to stay isolated at home for two weeks as a precaution, Dr. Timothy Regan, the hospital’s president and chief medical officer, said at a press briefing this morning.
Video of the press briefing and the rest of the article follows: More
An 88-year-old man who is in stable condition at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center has been tested positive for COVID-19, the hospital announced. It’s the third case reported in Polk County and the first known to be in Lakeland. The case is not considered to be travel-related. More
Publix Super Markets is joining a growing number of grocers, including Winn-Dixie and Harvey’s stores, that offer early-morning shopping hours exclusively to older customers, a group considered highly at risk to get sick from coronavirus. More
A 21-year-old woman who traveled to Georgia recently is the second person in Polk County with a confirmed case of COVID-19, according to the Florida Department of Health, which is trying to track where she may have contracted it. Ledger article | Interactive Florida map
Other updates from The Ledger, which has lifted its paywall for coronavirus-related articles:
- SCHOOLS in Florida will remain closed until at least April 15 and statewide testing has been scrapped for the rest of the school year.
- CHURCHES are rapidly switching to offering services online to counter empty pews.
- DOWNTOWN Lakeland has several new 15-minute parking spots to assist customers picking up take-out meals from restaurants. ALSO: Nineteen61, Black & Brew pivot, WFLA reports.
Polk school staff prepared 20,000 meal packets Tuesday, the first day the service was provided after schools were closed because of coronavirus concerns. The student must be present to receive a meal, most of which are handed by gloved staff through a car window. Meal service continues through Friday. ALSO: Locations and guidelines | Ledger coverage
Publix Super Markets has adjusted its store opening times again because of coronavirus concerns. Starting today, stores will open at 8 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. More
In today’s primary election, Polk County Democrats favored Joe Biden 61.12% over Bernie Sanders’ 22.7%, nearly mirroring the statewide 61.7%-to-22.8% split.
Turnout in Polk was 26.9% — far below the 40% to 50% rate Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards predicted several months ago and even below the 30% to 35% rate she predicted last week after the coronavirus threat became more serious. More
One Polk County resident is included in tonight’s updated statewide count of 216 Floridians with confirmed COVID-19 cases, Orlando’s WKMG News 6 reports. That individual is listed on an interactive map from the Florida Department of Health, which indicates the individual is a woman and the case isn’t travel-related. There’s no indication where in Polk Count she lives. More
Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, a first-termer representing Florida’s 15th District, which includes northwest Polk, east Hillsborough and Clermont. More
Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered bars and nightclubs throughout Florida closed for 30 days and placed restrictions on restaurant seating. Locally, the city of Lakeland is closing all recreation centers and libraries at the end of business today for at least 30 days, and the Polk Museum of Art announced it is postponing this year’s Mayfaire-by-the-Lake art festival. More
As George Jenkins High School student Kimmy Gabriela finished singing “Say Something” by A Great Big World on Monday night’s episode of ‘s ABC”American Idol,” judge Katy Perry appeared to want to declare her the winner before the show even ended. More
Schools, businesses and other organizations in Lakeland have announced closings and event postponements in efforts to prevent spread of the coronavirus. We’ve compiled many of the announcements here.More
LkldNow is compiling a daily roundup of news and announcements about local responses to preventing the spread of the COVID-19. Newer items will be posted at the top of the roundup so that readers can come back during the day and quickly find the latest additions. More
Amid concern that the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease will spread in coming weeks, city commissioners this afternoon voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency in Lakeland, giving City Manager Tony Delgado extraordinary authority to respond as events unfold. More
The city of Lakeland has taken to Facebook to counter rumors. Parks facilities will NOT be open for public daycare or camp while public schools are closed the next two weeks, according to a Facebook post. City staff does not have the capacity to handle unsupervised children, the post said. Any updates on city facilities will be posted to the city’s coronavirus info page.
With Spring Training suspended and the start of the Major League Baseball season delayed because of coronavirus concerns, Detroit Tigers players voted to stay in Lakeland to continue working out starting Monday.
- BONNET SPRINGS: Trucks stood ready to pour concrete pads during Thursday’s groundbreaking for the massive Bonnet Springs Park west of downtown. Multiple buildings will be constructed simultaneously with a goal of opening the park in late 2021 | Video: park preview
- KIMMY Gabriela, the 17-year-old Lakeland student who charmed “American Idol” judges at auditions, makes her competition debut on the ABC show Monday night at 8.
A city staff proposal to reword a fire-safety ordinance on sprinklers met a firewall of commissioner opposition Friday morning.
After a lengthy discussion about cost impediments the city may be erecting that prevent renovations to historic downtown buildings, commissioners decided to delay acting until staff provides more information. More
“The entire Geico community is hurting today,” a co-worker said after word spread that the couple involved in Wednesday’s murder-suicide in Lakeland were long-time Geico employees Mark Waggoner, 50, and Heather Waggoner, 41. Police haven’t confirmed the identities, but said a man shot and killed his estranged wife at her Oakbridge apartment before driving home and turning his handgun on himself.
A logistics company whose identity has not been publicly disclosed is considering Lakeland for a 700,000-square-foot warehouse that would bring $33 million in investment and 160 jobs. The company is seeking $28,800 in state and local incentives tied to the creation of 12 higher-paying jobs | MORE: City of Lakeland resolution to be considered by commissioners on Monday
John Attaway of Lakeland, who founded Publix Super Markets’ legal department in 1997 and retired last year as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award by Tampa Bay Business Journal.
POSTPONED: Music Munndays, a series of free, start-the-week lunchtime concerts in Munn Park, had been scheduled to open its new season this Monday with the Munn Park Saints. But the event was postponed this afternoon after Gov. Ron DeSantis suggested cities cancel mass gatherings. Keep scrolling for our updated live music calendar: More
A man shot and killed his estranged wife at the WillowBrooke Apartments in Oakbridge and then drove 15 miles to his home in unincorporated Polk and committed suicide, according to Lakeland police. The names of the assailant and victim have not been released yet.
It’s said that the wheels of justice move slowly, which is the status quo in the 18-month-old second-degree murder case of former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn. More
Lakeland’s last adult black-necked swan, a male, is tending a nest and its one egg after a car hit and killed his female mate Saturday. That egg and four more in an incubator may determine the success of the city’s six-year effort to perpetuate its black-necked swans.
A surprise Florida House bill that would have folded Florida Polytechnic University and New College into the University of Florida is off the table for this year’s legislative session, but the House speaker says the idea merits further study.
Two swans were hit and killed by vehicles recently, including one crossing between Lake Mirror and the Joinery. “We haven’t had any issues with the swans on Lake Mirror for more than 20 years,” said Steve Platt, who monitors the city’s swans. He speculated swans are crossing the road, which they rarely do, because people are feeding them. The other swan was hit near Lake Mirror, renewing calls for additional safety measures.
Live music highlights in Lakeland this weekend include two singers with roots in the middle of America. Missouri-born Heather Pierson brings her acoustic trio to an Among Friends Music house concert Saturday night. Arkansas-bred (but Pensacola-born) Zack Williams, a Grammy-winning singer of Christian rock, fronts a seven-piece band at Victory Church Friday. Keep scrolling for our updated live music calendar. More
- VOTING: Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards is hearing from lots of mail-in voters concerned about privacy because the official ballot envelopes have lines to fill in the voter’s email address and phone numbers. Those boxes, added by the Legislature last year, are optional, according to Edwards, who opposed that legislation. The chair of the Polk Democratic Party called it “a form of voter suppression,” but her Republican counterpart said he didn’t mind filling it out.
- LHS TEACHER Keith Cook’s firing was upheld by an administrative law judge. Students and parents were alarmed after a lockdown drill when he discussed steps a school shooter could take for maximum damage.
- HOME TOUR: The Lake Morton Neighborhood Association’s annual Home & Garden Tour takes place Saturday. (The owner of Mosswood said on Facebook he wants to make it clear his house will not be on the tour even though it was pictured with the Morning Paper’s article in print and online.)
Christopher Jones, 16, of Lakeland, was severely injured when he was hit by a Ford F-150 while crossing South Florida Avenue at Imperial Boulevard just after midnight a week ago Wednesday. His six surgeries have included removal of the lower part of a leg.
After a swan and an ibis were hit and killed by cars on Lake Morton Drive last week, city officials have increased police patrols and are considering adding two raised crosswalks and more 20-mph signs along the highly traveled road.
- UTILITY FUTURE: City commissioners decide next month how to replace the McIntosh 3 coal-fired power plant in a few years. Lakeland Electric staff has recommended using six internal combustion engines fueled by natural gas and a possible 50-megawatt field of solar panels.
- UTILITY BILLS: Lakeland Electric customers will get redesigned utility bills starting in June. The design, still being tweaked, will highlight the total amount due and include a circular chart showing how the bill is divided. For city residents, Lakeland Utilities’ swan logo will replace the Lakeland Electric logo to emphasize that the bill includes more than electricity.
- AIRLINE: Polk County will match the city of Lakeland’s pledge to contribute up to $1 million to a first-year revenue guarantee for the first airline initiating regular passenger service at Lakeland Linder Airport, county commissioners decided Tuesday. Another $1 million is being sought from private businesses.
Lakeland is losing more than a clothing store — it is also losing a landmark downtown institution. Nathan’s Men’s Store will soon close, but not before finishing what 77-year-old owner Harris Estroff calls a “retirement sale.” Estroff was talking about his own retirement. More
With two cases of COVID-19 confirmed in neighboring Hillsborough and Manatee counties, Lakeland Regional Health is stepping up its response to the novel coronavirus. Arriving patients are screened for symptoms and asked about recent travel. If concerns are raised, steps include issuing facemasks, frequent handwashing, and placement in rooms with special air filtration and controlled access.
ALSO: How Institutions in the Tampa Bay Are Responding (WUSF News)
A “Parents’ Bill of Rights” sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, appears tabled for this legislative session as the Senate Rules Committee let the clock run out as it was being discussed. Stargel says the bill just assembles current statutes in one place. Critics say the bill would create avenues to prevent minors from being treated for STDs or get mental health services without their parents’ knowledge.
Early voting has begun for the March 17 Florida presidential primary. The two Lakeland locations — Polk County Government Center, 950 E. Parker St., and Simpson Park Community Center, 1725 Martin L King Jr. Ave. — are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through March 14. More
After 78 years in business, Nathan’s Men’s Store in downtown Lakeland has announced it is closing. The store at the corner of Main Street and Kentucky Avenue has been owned for decades by Harris Estroff, 77; it was founded in 1942 by his parents, Nathan and Mildred Estroff. More
The 305-unit Mirrorton rental community being built north of Lake Mirror will lack fences and gates, making it feel more like a neighborhood than an apartment community, a representative of Flournoy Construction Group said today at a “groundbreaking” ceremony. Representatives of the city of Lakeland and developer The Framework Group of Tampa participated. In the following video, the ceremony starts at about 1:40. More
Parents arrived as early as 2:30 a.m. today to line up at the Polk school district’s Woodlake center off New Jersey Boulevard to register their children for voluntary prekindergarten | Learn how to apply
Kimmy Gabriela, a 17-year-old senior at George Jenkins High School, is on her way to ABC’s “American Idol” in Hollywood after being called a star by the celebrity panel who judged her audition in an episode that aired Sunday night.
This story is so uncommon that you might one day see it on TV — or a bigger screen. It’s a most unusual combination: 15 or 20 homeless men running for miles on the streets of Lakeland.
After several years of planning, a Lakeland educator presented the Polk School Board her proposal to open a charter Montessori school that will offer instruction in English and Spanish to students from pre-k to fourth grade | Mi Escuela Montessori website
As the Florida House prepares to take up legislation that would fold Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida, Tampa Bay Times reporter Emily L. Mahoney looks into the bill sponsor’s assertions that the 2012 founding of the Lakeland STEM school was driven by politics. At the time, departing Senate Appropriations Chairman J.D. Alexander pushed the creation of Florida Poly, saying its predecessor school was being ignored by the University of South Florida, which oversaw it. Some say Alexander was motivated by building a destination for a then-proposed toll road that would enhance the value of land owned by his company. ALSO:
- Bill’s backers present no proof of cost savings (WFSU News)
- Tampa Bay Times editorial opposes hasty action on university mergers
- LINCOLN SQUARE: Reporter Sara-Megan Walsh takes an in-depth look at the unanticipated costs that faced the Lakeland Community Development Agency when it replaced a crime-ridden apartment complex with 21 below-market-rate, single family homes in order to reduce blight and stimulate further development.
- AMERICAN IDOL: At the beginning of “American Idol” at 8 tonight on ABC, viewers will see the audition of Kimmy Gabriela, a senior at George Jenkins High School | YouTube: Kimmy sings “New York State of Mind”
- ANTI-BULLYING VIDEO: Students from Rochelle School of the Arts and With Love Productions appear in an anti-bullying video created by Lakeland resident Alessandra Stillinger. | The video on YouTube.
Supporters of the Cleveland Heights Golf Course and Lakeland Community Theater took to Facebook recently to rally public sentiment behind the two long-time institutions. They were spurred to action by comments made Jan 17 to the City Commission by Steve Scruggs, head of the Lakeland Economic Development Council; he floated several wide-ranging ideas to increase city revenue, including selling the golf course and land around Lake Mirror (where LCT is housed) for development. The city insists no such plans are under consideration, and Scruggs says he’s disappointed his suggestions caused distress.
LINKS: Ledger article | Scruggs’ presentation and video | Save the Heights 27 Facebook group | LCT ending its petition drive | City statement re the golf course and theater building
Madi Hecox is cleared to play basketball following surgery she had after Southeastern University’s mandatory electrocardiograms for student athletes discovered heart issues.
A flight this morning will take more than 30 cats and kittens from SPCA Florida in Lakeland to Chicago, where two Humane Society organizations will find new homes for them. It’s part of the initiative to achieve no-kill status for Polk County.
“He’s the one that gave me my sense of humor,” Sheriff Judd told News Channel 8. “He’s the one that taught me my work ethic. He’s the one that taught me you do what’s right all the time, even if doing right’s painful, even if doing right’s not popular.” Grady Judd Sr. died Saturday; he was 88.
The bill to merge Florida Polytechnic University and New College into the University of Florida is headed for the House floor after being passed following abbreviated discussion by the Appropriations Committee Tuesday evening. Opposed by both schools and committee Democrats, the bill could become embroiled in “smoky back rooms where lawmakers trade priorities at the end of session,” a committee member said.
MORE COVERAGE: Miami Herald | News Service of Florida | WFSU
- SCHOOLS: “Contagious positivity” distinguished Elizabeth Hardage, a 41-year-old Ocala native, during the interview process that led to her being named recently as head of school at All Saints Academy. She previously led Daystar Academy in Beijing | LinkedIn profile
- K9: LPD Sgt. Aaron Peterman and K-9 Blizzard compete at 9 tonight on A&E’s “America’s Top Dog.”
- ATHLETICS: A book by veteran collegiate soccer coach Renee Lopez of Lakeland helps guide high school athletes and their families through the college recruitment process.
- RIP: Grady Judd Sr., 88, father of the Polk County sheriff | Facebook memorial
Pat and Brenda Mahar were able to secure face masks, extra water and other supplies but have to cease holding services at their International Christian Fellowship in Padova, Italy, under restrictions instituted because of the spread of caronavirus.
As the Florida Legislature ponders a proposal to place Florida Polytechnic University under the administrative control of the University of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis has introduced another option: the University of South Florida. House Speaker Jose Oliva said he also likes the idea of merging both Florida Poly and Sarasota’s New College with Tampa-based USF; both have had previous affiliations with USF.
ALSO: Politico’s Florida Playbook roundup of state news includes a trio of items about the merger proposal, including a couple of quotes about Florida Poly’s origins. Said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard, originator of the merger proposal: “When you make a political decision that is separate from the facts, you often make a bad decision.” And U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, who opposed Florida Poly’s creation when he was in the Florida House, said on Twitter: “Florida Poly should never have been created. It was a boondoggle contrived to satisfy a powerful legislator.”
The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce is negotiating on two potential downtown sites to move its offices and establish an entrepreneurship center, new Chairman Matt Clark said in a profile article. “We hope to choose the final site within the next few months,” he said of the two sites — a vacant lot and an established building that would need renovation.
U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer James Ring has been away from Lakeland on active duty, but managed to slip back into town to surprise his daughters at a school dance they’ve always attended as a family. Keep scrolling for a video story by Ledger reporter Kimberly Moore or read her article here: More
- POLICE AND FIRE NEGOTIATORS remain at odds with the city of Lakeland over pay nearly five months after the last contracts expired.
- FLORIDA SOUTHERN College has dedicated the new Carol Jenkins Barnett Center for Early Childhood Learning and Health and the Lamar Louise Curry Education Building | ALSO: Bay News 9 coverage
- WINTER AUTOFEST continues through Sunday at Sun ’n Fun Expo Campus | Event website
Larry Durrence, a retired president of Polk Community College and former Lakeland city commissioner, died of cancer Thursday at age 80. More
The latest Hospital Compare ratings from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services again give Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center one star out of five, placing it among the bottom 5 percent of hospitals nationwide. More
Seven years after becoming principal of Harrison School for the Arts, Daryl Ward has left to join his predecessor, Craig Collins, at Southeastern University. Kevin LeVine, who has been Harrison’s assistant principal for seven years, is serving as interim principal and hopes to be appointed to the permanent job.
Former Lakeland Mayor Gow Fields, a registered Republican, has endorsed billionaire media mogul Mike Bloomberg, a Democrat, for president. He joins a growing list of prominent Florida Democrats endorsing the former New York City mayor, Florida Politics reports. “As a nation, we need someone in the White House who can bring class, decorum, and clear-headed thinking into our political discourse,” he said.
From Charlotte, N.C., Time Sawyer brings their rootsy folk/alt-country/rock blend to Swan Brewing on Saturday night. Also Saturday night, Koo Koo Kanga Roo will entertain kids and their parents at the Polk Theatre in a fund-raiser for local teachers. Keep scrolling for our updated live music calendar. More
The Florida House bill that would put Florida Polytechnic University under the control of the University of Florida faces more opposition as a House committee prepares to take it up next week. The bill would also merge Sarasota’s New College with Florida State College, and that was the focus of a column opposing the bill written by a bi-partisan group of Florida House members from Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas counties | ALSO: The chair of the Central Florida Development Council argues against the change.
The George Jenkins High School hockey team went from a string of losses in previous years to winning their district this year. They credit the turn-around in part to having a local venue, the Lakeland Ice Arena, to call home.
The iconic 70-foot arch at Southgate Shopping Center lost its nighttime neon glow years ago, but newly installed LED lighting will simulate the look. No word yet on when it will get turned on, but it was tested recently and Babe’s Shoes & Apparel posted photos to Facebook.
A life-sized statue of baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb will be installed behind the main ticket office at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. The likeness of the 22-year Detroit Tigers slugger was a gift from the Ted Williams Museum & Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, which is down-sizing.
An agreement between the Polk school district and the Polk Education Association gives teachers more planning time and removes some lesson plan templates. More
City commissioners are expected to approve an affordable housing plan Monday that encourages building homes on vacant city-owned lots and selling them to residents who have very-low to moderate incomes. More
The proposed design for Summit Consulting’s upcoming nine-story headquarters downtown drew positive comments from city commissioners Friday before the conversation diverted to a discussion about a future “highline” pedestrian walkway. More
Note to Lake Hollingsworth walkers and joggers: “There’s nothing to see here. Move along.” That was the gist of a pair of city of Lakeland Facebook posts (here and here) after a city resident’s post (here) warned of dangerous snakes nested along the lake near the roundabout. City lakes expert inspected the area in question and found only non-lethal Florida water snakes gathered in a tree to mate, but they conceded on that they can’t rule out other species being in the area. Yellow caution tape will mark the area until mating season ends.
Despite calls and emails in opposition, the Florida House Education Committee advanced a bill that would place Florida Polytechnic University under the wing of the University of Florida and make New College in Sarasota a satellite campus of Florida State University.
Have you heard about Lakeland Electric’s upcoming Customer Appreciation game? Lakeland Electric values its customers and loves being part of this community. To show appreciation, they are hosting a free Customer Appreciation Night at the Florida Tropics indoor soccer game on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 5:05 p.m. More
Deputies on Monday filed reckless driving charges against an 18-year-old and 17-year-old who they say were racing on Cherry Lane before they ran the stop sign at Lunn Road, crashing into a pickup truck and a tree. Nine people were hospitalized in the Christmas night crash.
Opposition is mounting to a surprise proposal to integrate Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida. The Lakeland-based STEM university’s president said he would attend today’s Florida House Education Committee meeting to oppose the bill, and Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, said she will press to keep Florida Poly “autonomous.” More
A Florida House bill (read it here) that is being heard Wednesday by the Education Committee would consolidate Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida and Sarasota’s New College into Florida State University. Rep. Randy Fine, a backer, said it’s a cost-cutting measure: “Unfortunately, degrees earned from Florida Poly and New College cost an order of magnitude more than they do at the other 10 universities” | ALSO: Florida Politics coverage
U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, a Dover Republican whose district includes most of Lakeland, is being investigated by the Florida Bar for campaign finance irregularities, the Tampa Bay Times reports. Spano concedes that campaign loans, also being investigated by the Federal Elections Commission, were probably a violation, but says they resulted from a mistake, not maliciousness. A campaign spokesman said the Florida Bar has not contacted Spano and accused The Times of “doing the work of the left.”
A 42-year-old Orlando land surveyor died around lunchtime Monday after he was struck by a pickup truck as he worked in the roadway on Lakeland Highlands Road near the Polk Parkway, according to Lakeland police. More
- HURRICANE RECOVERY: FEMA has awarded the city of Lakeland $2.4 million in one of 28 requests totaling $18.2 million in reimbursement for funds spent in recovering from Hurricane Irma 2 1/2 years ago.
- POLY: In the wake of scandals elsewhere involving foreign influence on academic research, Florida Polytechnic University has responded to federal and state inquiries that it is not aware of any staff members involved in Chinese-funded programs and that employees must disclose all research activities and any conflicts of interest.
With the Detroit Tigers setting up their 85th Spring Training in Lakeland, the focus this year will be on trying out new players as the team rebuilds.
An affordable housing program passed its first hurdle last week. On Feb. 17, the Lakeland City Commission will be asked to proceed with a project to offer roughly 80 city-owned lots for sale at 120% of assessed value to developers to build houses or apartments aimed at buyers and tenants whose family income is up to 120% of the city’s median. Non-utility impact fees would be waived once houses are sold to qualifying families.
A south Lakeland teen is being treated for possible rabies after an otter fought her family’s French bulldog, chased it into the house and bit the girl before her mother tackled it and threw it out the back door. Casina and Gwyn Ewert re-enact the scene for News Channel 8.
Latest campaign finance reports show that two Democratic candidates have more cash available than first-term Republican incumbent Ross Spano in the 2020 race for the U.S. House District 15 seat, which represents most of Lakeland: Adam Hattersley, D: $171,314; Alan Cohn, D: $85,313; Spano, R: $41,986.
An exhibition that the Polk Museum of Art’s director calls his institution’s biggest and most expensive will combine:
- Old (rarely seen 17th Century Dutch and Flemish paintings) with new (a Spotify playlist)
- Visual art with the performing arts of music and dance.
Florida Sen. Kelli Stargel’s bill requiring parents to consent to a minor’s abortion passed the Senate Thursday on a party-line vote and is headed to passage by the House and signature by the governor. The Lakeland Republican said she opted to have a baby as a teen when she found she was pregnant even though her mother suggested an abortion.
Lkld Live needs to be less a music venue than a home for creativity as it moves into maturity and its next act, said Nate Fleming, the nonprofit arts venue’s new executive director. More
Workers this morning put final touches on the Heritage Plaza Parking Garage as it opened to the public for the first time. The streets surrounding the garage — Kentucky Avenue, Orange Street and Tennessee Avenue — have been resurfaced and are again open to traffic. More
A City Commission review of plans for a downtown dog park turned into a discussion about parking in the fast-developing area north of Lake Mirror and what walkability means in an increasingly urbanized city core. More
Absent a clear vision for their broadband ambitions and eager to capitalize on recent prodding for information by communications technology companies, commissioners agreed Friday to issue an open-ended request for proposals to firms willing to create a partnership with the city. More
With its parent company declaring bankruptcy, Village Inn has closed about a quarter of its under-performing restaurants, including its location on Harden Road near the Polk Parkway. Most Village Inns in the Tampa Bay area remain open.
Winners tonight at Catapult’s 2nd Annual Lakeland Entrepreneur Awards were: More
Hans Lehman, now on the doorstep of becoming a Lakeland Police assistant chief, was conflicted 30 years ago during his last few years at Kathleen High School.
Lehman didn’t know what he wanted to do for his life’s work. Maybe it’s more accurate to say there were too many things he wanted to do: More
State Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, tells News Channel 8 she “articulated it wrong” when she supported a term-limits bill by saying Polk County has a School Board member who should be removed from office. She acknowledges that she was referring to Billy Townsend but says he has done nothing that warrants being removed by the governor.
- TEACHERS: Scores of teachers and their supporters are attending today’s Polk School Board meeting (5 p.m., Bartow High School auditorium), and many are expected to speak in support of letting voters decide on a one-mil property tax for salaries | News Channel 8 coverage | Facebook event
- McCAUSLAND: A Hillsborough judge ruled that former Lakeland City Attorney Tim McCausland can enter an intervention program for people charged with a first misdemeanor, so his charge involving “precursor acts facilitating prostitution” may be dropped.
After 19 years of wear and tear, a historical marker commemorating the Buffalo Soldiers’ 1898 encampment on Lake Wire has been replaced with a replica. More
The Polk’s Sheriff’s Office is asking for help finding Malakia Askew, 17, wanted after somebody shot a handgun into a yard full of people on Norfolk Circle east of Lakeand and wounded one of them early Friday. He “should be considered armed and dangerous. He has been known to frequent the Griffin Avenue Apartments in north Lakeland,” PCSO said on Facebook. Anybody with information is asked to contact PCSO at 863-298-6200 or, for a reward, Heartland Crime Stoppers at Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS or www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com.
On his way to establishing a chain, Dwayne Johnson — known for Dwayne’s Place Diner in Christina Plaza — has brought his Ole’ Tampa Cuban sandwich shop brand into Lakeland, opening its third location at Alamo Plaza | Facebook
- TOWNSEND: Discussing a bill calling for term limits for school board members in Florida counties, state Rep. Melony Bell seemed to be talking about Billy Townsend when she said there’s a Polk School Board member “that most likely needs to be removed” from office for being disruptive “and the governor has not removed him.” When questioned by a Ledger reporter, she said she never mentioned Townsend by name and she supports term limits in general | YOUTUBE: Bell’s comments
- THINGS TO DO: “Fly Like a Girl” aviation documentary directed by Lakeland’s Kate McEntire Wiatt at the Polk Theatre at 7 | Central Florida Rum and Food Experience at RP Funding Center from 4 to 7.
Two things have remained constant for former NBA superstar Charles Barkley: his love for First Tee in Lakeland and futility at playing golf. More
Kay Llewellyn, who has been secretary to the principal at Dixieland Elementary School for 30 years, was named Polk County’s 2020 school-related employee of the year. More
- ROADS: Wabash Avenue will extend northward to Kathleen Road, taking pressure off Harden/Sykes Boulevards and Florida Avenue, now that the city has agreed to spend $380,050 for the last bit of land needed.
- PRESCHOOL: A couple planning to open a Montessori preschool is still looking for a suitable site, having decided to no longer pursue either the Deen House on Frank Lloyd Wright Way or a second location on Oak Drive across from the Southgate Publix entrance.
- RAIL: A delegation of local elected officials and economic development backers will travel to Miami in April to push for a Polk County stop when Brightline-Virgin Trains extends its express train service from Orlando to Tampa.
The Lakeland Public Library on Lake Morton and the adjoining coffee shop reopened shortly after 11 a.m. today after being evacuated because of a bomb threat. A man who made threats after being asked to leave was taken into in custody and police searched the building “in an abundance of caution,” the Lakeland Police Department said. More
Florida Polytechnic University is seeing a 31% increase in freshman admissions applications over last year, and a 44% increase in out-of-state interest. Some see that as welcome news in the wake of a WalletHub report (here) that places Lakeland-Winter Haven at 93rd among the 100 largest metro areas in favorability to STEM professionals | RELATED: Ledger editorial and an opinion column about the WalletHub ranking.
Traffic counters were placed in 90+ locations south of downtown recently (map of locations) to gather data on traffic counts, travel times and vehicle types before the upcoming one-year test of the South Florida Avenue “road diet.” So the timing is good for an update on the Ariana-to-Lime Street narrowing of the roadway. Construction is expected to begin around May in prep for the one-year test scheduled to start around October.
- CITY: In his annual presentation to the City Commission, the head of the non-profit Lakeland Economic Development Council presented an ambitious list of goals for the city and an audacious series of suggestions for replacing city revenue without raising property taxes or utility fees. Potential revenue sources include a hospitality tax on food and beverages, conversion of Cleveland Heights Golf Course and development of city-owned property around Lake Mirror | View the presentation slides
- ABORTION: The bill by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to require parental consent for teens wanting an abortion is heading to the Senate floor and likely passage by the full Legislature.
- DINING: In a five-star review, restaurant critic Eric Pera declares that downtown’s Nineteen61 “is without a doubt the most interesting, eclectic, vibrant, handsome restaurant Polk County has to offer.”
- SCHOOLS: Anticipating a large turnout of teachers who want to talk about public education funding, the Polk School Board is looking for a larger venue for its Jan. 28 meeting, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said in a meeting in which board members accepted her apologies for the handling of a state email warning that teachers could be fired for missing school to attend a rally.
- GUNS: County commissioners declared Polk a Second Amendment sanctuary on Monday, three days after a majority said they were reluctant to do so. Commissioner Bill Braswell said the move was symbolic because state law prevents the county from passing firearms regulations.
- GOLF: The Barkley, Bean, Bryant and Friends golf tournament takes place at 1 p.m. Friday at YMCA Par 3 | Learn more
A bill by state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, that would shield state lawmakers’ home addresses and family members’ income sources passed a committee 4-3 on a party-line vote. The law’s supporters offered no evidence why members of the Legislature need the same protections as judges and law enforcement officers, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Pastor H.B. Holmes spoke of bridging the digital divide at Lakeland’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, disclosing he is using his background as a communications entrepreneur to bring free wifi to residents near his church, Word of Faith International on Skyview Drive. He also said he’s talking with the city of Lakeland about tapping into the city’s fiber network to expand free Internet to low-income residents.
A memorial to Lakeland Police Officer Paul Dunn placed near the spot on Lakeland Highlands Road where he died in a motorcycle crash on Jan. 9 was vandalized early Sunday, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. It’s been put back together but a few signs are missing, neighbors said.
Just weeks after celebrating his 109th birthday Jan. 2 at Lake Morton Plaza, Ike Newcomer died on Friday. He was believed to be among the 10 oldest men in the U.S. Newcomer, a native of Hershey, Pa., moved to Florida in 1952 and became a homebuilder, according to a recent Ledger feature. In younger days, he spent summers touring with an Airstream travel trailer, visiting all 49 states he could drive to and every Canadian province.| LPD Facebook post
In an effort to increase safety for students walking to Kathleen High Schools and others heading to public transportation, Polk officials are considering changes to Chestnut Road (map) between Memorial Boulevard and New Tampa Highway. The road would become one-way northbound separated by a concrete divider from a two-way multi-use path occupying the current southbound lane. People can learn more and give opinions at a public meeting Tuesday 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Trinity Life Church of God, 1942 W. Memorial Blvd. | Public notice
- BYRD APOLOGY: If she had it to do over again, Polk Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said in an email apology to her staff, she would have let teachers know why she forwarded a letter from a state lawyer and assured them they wouldn’t be fired for attending a statewide rally in Tallahassee on a school day | Byrd’s email
- ELECTIONS SUPERVISOR Lori Edwards has picked up opposition for her nonpartisan position. Debbie Hannifan, a Lakeland real estate agent, has filed to run in November’s election against the five-term incumbent.
- HOMELESS: Federal assistance to Polk County for homelessness programs remains at around $1.9 million, but more could be coming.
- THEATER: A three-school collaboration brings students from Lake Gibson high school and middle school to work on a Wendell Watson Elementary School musical being staged Sunday.
Orlando Health, which had a brief affiliation with Lakeland Regional Health that ended 15 months ago, has announced its intention to buy 80 acres in south Lakeland “for a potential future medical campus.” More
The fifth win by a candidate endorsed by a Lakeland-centered political action committee illustrates a new model for winning city campaigns: more focused, more professional and much more expensive. More
A long motorcade traveling South Florida Avenue on Thursday afternoon made a stop so that Vice President Mike Pence could get out at Reececliff Family Diner and enjoy some of its famous pie. Later, at a campaign rally in Kissimmee, he praised the work of LPD Officer Paul Dunn, who died a week earlier in a motorcycle accident on the way to work. See coverage in The Ledger and and keep scrolling for social media videos: More
On the eve of his funeral, well wishers have adorned Lakeland Police Officer Paul Dunn’s motorcycle with flowers and mementos. It’s being displayed at the fallen officer memorial in front of LPD headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue. Dunn, 50, died in an accident on Lakeland Highlands Road last Thursday. More
Because they were warned not to attend, Polk teachers were cheered when their buses arrived in Tallahassee for a rally supporting public education Monday. The 600+ on the buses plus several hundred more who carpooled made Polk’s probably the largest delegation at a statewide rally whose size was estimated at 4,500 by Tallahassee police.
- Coverage of Polk teachers in Tallahassee: The Ledger (YouTube video) | News Channel 8 | ABC Action News | Fox 13 News
- 500+ rallied for education in Munn Park after school: The Ledger | ABC Action News | LkldNow
- A look at the numbers: News Channel 8
Residents interested in learning more about the future of Lakeland Linder Airport will have a chance to ask questions and voice opinions at a public meeting Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the airport terminal. Topics addressed in the airport’s 20-year master plan include runway expansion, and the airport director encourages potential homeowners in fast-growing southwest Lakeland to “know what’s happening before they buy a home” | City of Lakeland news release
More than 500 people gathered in Munn Park at 4:30 p.m. today for a rally to support increased state funding for public education. After that, they walked to Florida Avenue to wave signs encouraging support from passing drivers. Speakers in the video, in order, are: More
Help(her), a new Lakeland business, helps small organizations and individuals needing assistance with a variety of tasks. They pair the client’s needs with a member of their team of background-checked women who work for $15 an hour | Help(her) website