Dreams of more vibrant development to the west of downtown Lakeland got a boost today when city commissioners signaled they’d like to see a transportation hub built just north of the RP Funding Center in the next five to 10 years.
The envisioned transportation hub would most likely include additional parking for the RP Funding Center, freeing up current parking lots for future development.
It would also likely include a bridge over CSX railroad tracks to allow pedestrians to cross to an office/residential/commercial development planned for the now-vacant former Florida Tile site and from there to Bonnet Springs Park, currently under construction.
Transportation planners have long envisioned a single spot in Lakeland for an “intermodal center” to house a variety of transportation services: local buses, inter-city buses, passenger rail, ride-sharing services and more.
The question has been where it would be built: to the west of downtown, near the Lakeland Police Department headquarters or near the U.S. 98/I-4 interchange.
See the document at the end of this article to review details of the prospective sites and their pros and cons.
Several organizations reviewing the options settled on the “Downtown West” option that includes multi-story parking, and today the City Commission agreed. On Monday, they will vote on a resolution that kicks planning into the next stage: a detailed plan and getting the project into the state Department of Transportation’s spending plan.
The option chosen is projected to cost $25 million to $35 million and would consist of at least three stories.
The bottom floor would include bays for local and inter-city buses, as well as waiting rooms, ticketing areas, concessions and other conveniences for bus and Amtrak passengers. Also envisioned by the city: a crosswalk to a rail platform across Main Street.
The next two levels would include automobile parking, offices for the Citrus Connection and a bridge over Main Street toward an Amtrak platform and also potentially over the railroad tracks toward new development.
The city currently owns the property where the transportation hub is planned. An option that is no longer being pursued included the rest of the block to the east, but a portion of that land is owned privately and it includes historic buildings that would probably need to be preserved.
The city also owns the land on Florida Avenue downtown that currently houses the Citrus Connection terminal and the land on Lake Mirror with the current Amtrak station. Once the new transportation center is operating, those properties could be sold for development, Community Development Director Nicole Travis noted. Proceeds could help with the additional parking at the intermodal facility, she said.
The three floors currently planned would accommodate 384 cars. The city envisions at least one more floor to boost parking above 500.
The local Citrus Connection bus system is a strong backer of the plan, according to a representative at today’s meeting. “We’re doing back flips,” said agency senior planner Rodney Wetzel, citing safety concerns and lack of growth potential at the current downtown bus terminal.
The site near the RP Funding Center was also the one favored by the Downtown Development Authority and the Lakeland Police Department, their representatives said at today’s meeting.
Selection of the Downtown West site does not preclude the city from continuing its plans for an eventual parking garage just east of the LPD headquarters, transportation planner Chuck Barmby said in response to a question from Mayor Bill Mutz. But the resulting garage would be smaller since it wouldn’t have to accommodate buses and rail passengers.
As for timeframe, Department of Transportation representatives said the fastest a project like this could be done is five years, but it could be closer to 10 years.
Today’s presentation to the City Commission detailing alternatives: