Orlando Health’s plan to build a hospital campus in south Lakeland is taking shape as the City Commission prepares to annex the site, designate the zoning and sign a development agreement that defines what the hospital group must do to soften the impact of growth.

After much negotiating and discussion, the City Commission is set to hold a public hearing and vote on whether to approve the project during a meeting that begins at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

Before that, the project could be discussed during a City Commission agenda study meeting that begins at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Both meetings will be conducted online and can be viewed live at  lakelandgov.net or on cable: Spectrum 643 and FiOS 43. Members of the public can comment during the Tuesday meeting via a phone number that will be displayed during the broadcast.

The nonprofit hospital group has asked that 79.6 acres at the southeastern corner of the intersection of the Polk Parkway and Lakeland Highlands Road be brought into the city limits and the acreage be designated as a planned unit development for a medical center campus with supporting retail development.

The project is expected to start with a free-standing emergency department with up to 24 exam rooms, a helipad and some medical offices. The rest of the project is expected to be gradually developed over 20 years or longer.

At build-out the medical campus is projected to include:

  • A 730,000-square-foot hospital of up to 360 beds
  • The 30,000-square-foot free-standing emergency department with helipad
  • 240,000 square feet of medical office space
  • A 20,000-square-foot ambulatory surgical center
  • A 150-bed hotel
  • 20,000 square feet of retail space.

At 360 beds, Orlando Health’s hospital in Lakeland would be less than half the size of Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center’s downtown 864-bed facility, which for decades has been the sole hospital in the city.

Orlando Health’s plan shows the tract divided into five parcels with building heights ranging from 36 feet to 120 feet, depending upon the use for that particular parcel.


On Aug. 17, during the first of two public hearings, Orlando Health’s director of asset strategy, Aaron Bottenhorn, told city commissioners the medical center complex eventually would employ 1,800 people.

But it will start much smaller at about 200 employees for the free-standing emergency department, then increase to about 600 employees when the first phase of the hospital, about 120 beds, is built, Bottenhorn said

The project will cost Orlando Health $720 million in today’s dollars, he said. Included in that is $5.3 million in traffic, police and fire impact fees to the city of Lakeland and another $1.6 million in impact fees to Polk County.

An economic impact analysis will be completed before Tuesday’s meeting, Bottenhorn said in mid-August, adding that the annual impact at build-out is expected to be $1.1 billion.

The site, currently undeveloped, sits just north of the Lakeland Highlands Road entrance to Sanlan Ranch RV & Golf Resort

“Something of this magnitude will bring a whole different feel for that area of city,” City Commissioner Phillip Walker said. “It will be more like a small city there. We are already seeing kind of growing pain in the area.”

In recent years, housing subdivisions, including Meadow Place and Waterview, have been under development across Lakeland Highlands Road from the planned hospital site.

And to the north, across the Polk Parkway, sits a Sam’s Club, Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, Mellow Mushroom, Wendy’s and other retail establishments.

Bottenhorn assured commissioners that the 120-foot tall hospital building would not loom over nearby neighborhoods because it would sit in the middle of the parcel, 700 feet back from Lakeland Highlands Road. The buildings closest to housing developments would be retail spaces, limited to 36 feet tall, and the hotel, which could be no taller than 60 feet.

Lakeland Transportation Manager Charles Barmby told commissioners that to ensure such a large-scale project is not set aside for an undetermined amount of time, “Within 18 months of the date the development agreement is signed Orlando Health must bring in site plans for tracts A and B (where the emergency department, hospital and medical offices are planned) and within 36 months building permits must be issued.”

The city has the option to withdraw from the agreement if those benchmarks are not met.

The development agreement is good for 15 years, with the possibility of two extensions of five-years each if circumstances beyond Orlando Health’s control cause delays.

The agreement

The development agreement stipulates that before the free-standing emergency department can open, Orlando Health must:

  • Fund and complete work on lengthening the northbound left-turn lane on Lakeland Highlands Road at the Polk Parkway.
  • *Help fund and install a traffic signal at the intersection of Lakeland Highlands Road and Deerfield Drive/Sanland Ranch Road/Winter Lake Extension Road.
  • Dedicate a 40-foot-wide easement corridor for a bicycle and pedestrian right-of-way from the Fort Frasier Trail and parallel to the Polk Parkway. Work on the trail extension to connect it with the Lake-to-Lake Bike Network is expected to start in 2024 and if at that time the Florida Department of Transportation, the city and county have a funding shortfall, Orlando Health will contribute up to $300,000 toward building the trail on its easement. If sufficient money is available, Orlando Health will not be required to add to the funding pot.
  • Participate in the Florida Department of Transportation’s Commuter Assistance Program, which aims to improve the public transit system in rural areas. (Currently the two closest bus stops are one mile and 1.25 miles away.)

As the project starts generating more traffic, Orlando Health must develop a database to track the impact of the health campus’s impact on traffic growth and must prepare a new traffic impact analysis for the New Jersey Road corridor between Edgewood Drive and U.S. 98.

When the project is about half-way built out, it is expected to be generating enough traffic that Orlando Health will have to meet another set of conditions. But rather than adjusting for roadway conditions that also will be impacted by other growth, Orlando Health will be responsible for making improvements to the public transit system.

The agreement stipulates that at the time Orlando Health’s project is generating a specified level of traffic, it will build an onsite transit superstop, provide up to $500,000 for Lakeland Area Mass Transit to buy a bus, and provide $150,000 a year for five years to operate the bus service to and from the property.

At a minimum, the superstop must include a bus pullout area to accommodate at least two buses with shelters, bike racks, trash receptacles and underground utility infrastructure to house a separately metered automatic ticketing kiosk.

The details of bus operations will be worked out later with Lakeland Area Mass Transit, but at a minimum bus service must be provided during peak traffic hours on weekdays and at least six hours a day.

The agreement also covers such details as sidewalk connectivity, driveway placement and bicycle parking at each building.

The plan

The parcel is divided into into five tracts, which likely would be developed at various times.

Tract A, where the development would start, would include the stand-alone emergency department, helipad and medical offices and, eventually, the hospital. The tract is in the middle of the parcel, meaning the hospital building, which could no taller than 120 feet, would be at least 700 feet back from Lakeland Highlands Road.

Tract B would include medical support offices, an ambulatory surgery center and other medical support services. It runs along the Winter Lake Extension Road and is south and east of the planned stand-alone emergency department and hospital. Buildings could be no taller than 90 feet.

Tract C would be a hospital support zone, which would include uses allowed in tracts A and B plus ancillary maintenance uses, such as a parking garage, power supply, laundry, food service and storage. The tract is south and east of the planned hospital. The maximum building height would be 90 feet.

Tract D, located adjacent to Lakeland Highland Road, would include retail uses in buildings up to 36-feet tall and a hotel that is no more than 60-feet tall. There could be no more than two fast-casual restaurants.

Tract E, which is closest to the residential developments on the west side of Lakeland Highlands Road, is mostly low-quality wetlands. Initially it would be designated as conservation use. However, it is also identified for future health care uses with buildings no higher than 60 feet. To change from conservation use would require development plans to go through the PUD modification process, including environmental permitting.

Although Orlando Health’s current plan does not have any such facilities, the PUD also allows for assisted living facilities, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and skilled nursing facilities on the campus.

Orlando Health system’s main campus is in downtown Orlando and includes Orlando Regional Medical Center, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. The health system also owns six other hospitals in Central Florida, five freestanding emergency departments, five cancer centers and 11 medical buildings.

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