The Jenkins Arena — which formerly hosted the Lakeland Magic and the Florida Tropics — is used throughout the year for events, competitions and graduation ceremonies. | Cindy Glover, LkldNow

This week marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian. It also may mark a milestone for the RP Funding Center’s Jenkins Arena, which sustained major roof damage during the storm.

The City Commission on Monday is scheduled to approve spending $2.6 million to replace the arena’s 50-year-old flat roof. The roof has been patched and tarped since Ian blew through Lakeland as a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 29, 2022.

“The temporary patching was, of course, not permanent and during a few storms additional leaks were detected and those areas required even further patching,” City Communications Director Kevin Cook said.

It took some time to get bids and approval for the project. Ultimately, Tampa-based RYCARS Construction LLC bested four other companies with its proposal to provide the much-needed and long-awaited TLC.

Reimbursement is likely, but not quick

The city’s property insurance is paying for all but the $629,123 deductible. The city is seeking reimbursement for that from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This was a surprise that our insurance company even covered this this roof — we thought for sure it was going to be 100% FEMA,” Finance Director Mike Brossart said at an agenda study session on Friday.

An aerial view of the RP Funding Center in 2018. | Courtesy City of Lakeland
An aerial view of the RP Funding Center in 2018. The arena is on the bottom left building. | Courtesy City of Lakeland

But Brossart pointed out that it takes years for FEMA to send reimbursements and, until that happens, the city will be out the upfront money. The city was finally reimbursed for Hurricane Irma expenses in the last year and that storm was in 2017.

“It was five and six years later before we, I think, we got the rest of it,” said Brossart. “But it comes in.”

He said one of the reasons it takes so long is that they have to account for every last detail.

“We had to document every single tree that was lost within our city limits,” Brossart said. “And then you had to go and provide a photograph, you had to provide GPS coordinates, you had to provide a ruler, a photograph of a ruler showing the diameter of the stump, how high the stump was off the ground if you removed the stump. If you put dirt back in the ground, where did you get the dirt, provide the coordinates for the dirt. So there’s a lot to it.”

Brossart said FEMA has reimbursed the city between $26 million and $28 million for the last two major storms, with Lakeland receiving everything for which it was eligible.

A major undertaking

The RP Funding Center was originally known as the Lakeland Civic Center.  It was built on the former historically Black neighborhood of Moorehead, which was torn down using federal eminent domain laws. Construction on the center was completed in 1974, with a meeting hall and enclosed walkways added over the years. In its heyday, it hosted legendary rock and roll performers — everyone from Elvis Presley to U2 to The Grateful Dead.

The roof project includes all labor, material, equipment, supervision, and administration to integrate the work outlined in the project construction documents and specifications.

The scope of work includes removal and disposal of the existing roofing systems and components down to the existing steel deck, installation of new thermoplastic single-ply roofing membrane and flashing system, associated roof system components, and insulation.

Category 1 winds whipped through Lakeland during Hurricane Ian on Sept. 29, 2023 | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow
Category 1 winds whipped through Lakeland during Hurricane Ian on Sept. 29, 2023 | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

The RP Funding Center roof replacement was one of the most costly items on the city’s list of Hurricane Ian damage.  Others include:

  • City-wide power restoration, $9 million — Replacement of utility poles, transformers, wire and compatible units.
  • City-wide debris removal, $2.35 million.
  • Lakeland Airside Center, $908,600 — Roof was partially ripped off several buildings due to high hurricane winds, multiple leaks and water damage in multiple buildings.
  • First responders, $775,000 — Emergency protective measures, overtime pay and meals.
  • The Magnolia Building, $231,000 — Flooring has major water damage and must be refinished in the main room, side dressing room, and entry and hall to exterior. The roof will also need to be replaced.
  • Loss of street signs, $98,000.

The City Commission will vote on Monday during its regular meeting, starting at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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