The Lakeland Economic Development Council has a plan and the city of Lakeland has its own plan for downtown Lakeland. By April, all the different master plans plotting the future of downtown Lakeland will be integrated and “visualized” on a web-based platform that allows users to see what downtown’s street grid would look like if all proposed and approved plans were implemented.
“The cool, sexy part” of the tool will allow anyone “to visualize future development on any site of downtown Lakeland,” LEDC Executive Director Steve Scruggs said as he demonstrated the 3D software program created by The Apiary, a Lakeland-based startup, during the two-day Lakeland City Commission strategic planning session at the RP Funding Center that concluded Thursday.
“You can drive down the street. You can fly over the CRA’s Oak Street lot, go to the corner of Massachusetts and Main,” he said as envisioned streetscapes emerged on the screen with each click on a specific lot.
The Apiary will “keep it up to date in real time” with actual and proposed development for each downtown lot, Scruggs said, under an operating credo to “maximize the best use of all properties.”
The Apiary tool will be used to present LEDC’s downtown “Catalyst 2.0” plan to be unveiled this spring as a follow-up to Catalyst 1.0, which was introduced during the commission’s 2019 strategic planning session by former Lakeland Director of Economic & Community Development Nicole Travis.
That Catalyst 1.0 plan included high-rise buildings, parking garages and a sports complex at “catalyst sites.” Several of those initiatives have materialized within the last few years, Scruggs said, with more than $150 million in private capital investment in downtown since 2019.
Catalyst 1.0 milestones cited by Scruggs included:
- The January 2020 opening of The Joinery
- February 2020 openings of the 850-space Heritage Plaza parking garage
- The opening, also in February 2020, of Catapult 3.0, LEDC’s $13 million, 38,000-square-foot, three-story business incubator on Lake Mirror.
“Things kind of exploded around Lake Mirror” with the Mirrorton apartment complex “breaking ground, completed now and full and already raising the rents,” he said.
View Scruggs’ presentation about Catalyst 2.0 here or at the end of this article.
This spring, Summit Consulting, a Lakeland-based workers’ compensation insurance company, will complete its eight-story, $50 million headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue bringing 500 employees to work downtown.
The LEDC estimated in December that with addition of Summit’s employees, about 7,000 people work in downtown Lakeland during weekday business hours.
“I don’t think Catalyst 1.0 can take credit for all that, but it sure did help,” Scruggs said, adding that the updated plan will “ expand the Catalyst success story beyond the shores of Lake Mirror and the entire downtown.”
The key to visualizing Catalyst 2.0 possibilities with The Apiary tool is that it provides the “certainty” that developers and investors seek, he said,
“If a developer wants to know what kind of action is happening in downtown Lakeland, it can now find it all in one place,” Scruggs said, noting al that is needed is “an infrastructure plan that goes along with it.”
Those infrastructure plans will be provided by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency after commissioners last week authorized $281,000 to conduct master plan studies for three distinct downtown areas.
Commissioners on Feb. 21 approved the Midtown CRA request to pay GAI Consultants $150,000 to produce a “Downtown West Master Plan” within nine months; Dixieland CRA’s request to pay Ayres Associates $57,700 for a “South Florida Avenue Master Plan” within 14 weeks; and Midtown CRA’s request to pay Straughn Trout Architects $74,009 for an “East Main Street Master Plan.”
When discussing the three master plan study proposals on Feb. 18, Assistant City Attorney Jerrod Simpson explained the studies will focus on “land use and zoning and what infrastructure is available and what infrastructure is needed.”
The studies will emphasize “projects that have good return on investment” that come with “measurable costs” over a five-year span, he said.
One focus of the South Florida Avenue study, for instance, would be whether to retain or remove the “road diet,” Simpson said, noting the “lane-reduction study” should be soon concluded.
Commissioner Stephanie Madden said no one liked the road diet installed on Edgewater Drive in Orlando “12, 13 years ago” but now it’s accepted by motorists with few complaints. What are “the similarities and dissimilarities between the two?” she asked
City Attorney Palmer Davis said the focus of the West Main Street study would be to “create a pedestrian gateway” to the eastern approaches to Lake Mirror and downtown.
With The Apiary tool that can merge Catalyst 2.0 aspirations and CRA master plan data, anyone “can look at these results and say, ‘Please take us there, that’s where we want to go,’” Madden said.
The commission needs “more information about how 2.0 relates to” the CRA studies “and how they are integrated,” Commissioner Chad McLeod said, noting with three different master plans, it is good to see “different pieces tied together.”
One site Scruggs said he’d like to see via The Apiary tool is the city-owned parking lot near Lake Morton and just south of the Frontier Communications building.
The city should solicit bids and “probably get an apartment project there’ rather than continuing he called the wasteful use of downtown lots for parking when the city is investing in parking garages, such as the Heritage parking garage.
“There are so many surface parking lots in downtown Lakeland that it would take 20, 30 years to develop,” he said.