The FedEx Building, formerly Maas Brothers and Burdines, was recently bought by Publix for $8.6 million. | Barry Friedman, LkldNow

Publix Super Markets is planning a major expansion in downtown Lakeland as it takes over a fourth building to create a “technology campus” for its information technology workers.

“There’ll be hundreds of new high-skill, high-wage jobs with an average annual wage of $130,000,” Lakeland Economic Development Council President Steve Scruggs told city commissioners today.

“This is over 250% of Polk County’s annual average wage. And as I stand here today — I would say this is year 37 for me — we have never announced hundreds of jobs at $130,000 a year. Never happened — never had a 250% of Polk County’s average wage ever happened,” Scruggs said.

Publix has positioned IT staff in the Bank of America Building, the old JC Penney building and two and a half floors of The Ledger building.  FedEx is moving out of the old Maas Brothers/Burdine’s building as it downsizes, Scruggs said; Publix bought the block-long limestone structure in January for $8.6 million, according to the Polk County Property Appraiser’s website.

Scruggs said the grocery chain behemoth employs about 1,200 IT workers currently in the downtown area.

A map showing four of the five downtown properties owned by Publix. | Courtesy City of Lakeland

Scruggs said between the old JC Penney and Maas Brothers/Burdines buildings alone, there is 260,000 square feet of office space.

“We didn’t know FedEx a year and a half ago was going to move and Publix jumped on it,” Scrguggs said. “And we’re very excited about this project. So this is the campus kind of feel we want you to get a feel for.”

At this morning’s Lakeland City Commission agenda study meeting, Scruggs showed a map of Publix properties downtown, which also includes the old Florida Citrus Mutual Building. It has sat vacant since Publix bought it in 2016 for $3.1 million.

The City Commission will vote on Aug. 21 whether to tear it down in coming months to create more parking for Publix employees. The site plan includes a pedestrian plaza, improvements in stormwater drainage, landscaping, and tree mitigation.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article reported incorrectly that the commission vote would be Monday, Aug. 7.

When the plan for surface parking on the property was presented a year ago, both the city staff and commissioners expressed concern about using prime downtown real estate for surface parking. But minds have changed as city officials learned more about the scope of Publix’ downtown expansion, according to Jason Willey, the city’s manager of strategic projects.

The Florida Citrus Mutual Building was built in the 1950s and designed by architect Donovan Dean in a mid-century modern style. But it has fallen into disrepair and contains asbestos.

The entrance to the Florida Citrus Mutual Building, now owned by Publix. Company officials plan to tear down Donovan Dean structure, which is in disrepair, to gain more parking for the hundreds of employees they plan to hire for their technology campus. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Scruggs said Publix officials plan to renovate the JC Penny building again and refurbish the Maas Brother/Burdines building to suit their needs.

“This is going to bring a lot of jobs to downtown … and a lot of capital investment for our community,” he said.

Downtown has seen a renaissance in the last decade, with the NoBay apartments being built on the northern end of the Munn Park area. Restaurants, shops and bars have opened.  And there are tentative plans to redesign Munn Park by adding play areas, landscaping and an area for food trucks.

Apartment buildings, shops and restaurants are going up in the triangle at Sikes Boulevard and George Jenkins Boulevard – the latter named for the founder of Publix. Another large apartment/retail complex is planned for The Ledger’s north parking lots and one planned for North Lake Wire.

Willey explained that Publix, under the name Project Horizon, negotiated with city and county leaders a deal for Polk County Business Incentive grants to bring employees to Lakeland.  For every job created, the city and the county agreed to pay $500 each and, so far $500,000 has been committed by both government entities for those jobs. It will be paid over a three-year period after confirmation of the jobs and capital investment has been obtained.

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips:


Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

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.

Leave a comment

Your Thoughts On This? (Comments are moderated; first and last name are required.)