LAKELAND FOODIES FLOCK TO THE NEW GREENWISE
Even as Christmas shopping peaked, the hardest place to find parking in Lakeland might have been the just-opened GreenWise Market across Florida Avenue from the Lake Miriam Publix. Its placement across from a conventional grocery store signals that parent company Publix Super Markets intends GreenWise to be a specialty store — a place to get natural foods and convenience meals, attend events or enjoy coffee, kombucha, beer or wine at the beverage bar. This is the third store since Publix retooled its GreenWise store concept and the first built from the ground up. And it was clear that lots of people in this Publix-crazed town couldn’t wait to check it out.
STORE MURAL SHOWS LAKELAND SCENES, PEOPLE ON THE GO
Shoppers in line to check out at the new GreenWise Market get to ponder an intricate mural showing a cross section of local architecture and active people. The 8-foot-square art installation titled “Lakeland on the Move” was created by local artists Bump Galletta and Fred Koehler. Bump drew the buildings, and Fred sketched the people — including himself tossing a football to his son and a Galletta family portrait. The “on the move” theme reflects Lakeland as a place where “families and individuals do fun, active stuff,” Koehler said. “Plus it aligns with the GreenWise brand.
”CHRISTMAS PARADE EARLY-CHAIR TRADITION MAY HAVE ENDED
As we noted last month, the city of Lakeland once again asked people to refrain from putting chairs along the Christmas Parade route until the day of the big show. And did they listen? This year: yes — for the first time. So how did they get folks to comply this year when they haven’t in the past? Could be the social media pleas and videos from the police chief and fire chief. Could be the signs that said chairs blocking sidewalks would be removed. Or maybe it was the threat of having to dig through a pile of abandoned folding chairs at Tigertown to recover the ones the family will need for the next trip to the beach.
CITY HASN’T GIVEN UP ON BROADBAND YET
Will Lakeland residents get more high-speed internet options? It’s too early to tell, but there’s still a chance. Some people thought hopes for a municipal utility were dashed when the mayor told a crowd that the city was let off the hook by Spectrum’s decision to offer near-gigabit speeds to much of Lakeland. But word emerged soon that two broadband companies had approached the city about potential partnerships involving Lakeland’s 330 miles of fiber-optic cables. In addition, city staff is gathering the data needed to hold hearings under a state law governing communications utilities. If everything is in place, there could be public hearings on a city system as early as February and March.
A NEW COMMISSIONER TAKES OFFICE AS BUSINESS GROUP FLEXES MUSCLE
The new year brings changes to City Hall. Justin Troller, who positioned himself as the champion of the common man and woman, is ending 12 years on the City Commission after reaching term limits. His at-large seat is being filled by public relations firm co-owner Chad McLeod, who defeated Carole Philipson 55% to 45% in a runoff election. McLeod benefitted from the support of the big-business-oriented Lakeland First political action committee, which effectively matched the roughly $60,000 McLeod raised for the campaign. Philipson had raised a bit more than McLeod, but the Lakeland First spending left her outgunned 2-to-1. Five of the current seven commissioners were elected with the support of Lakeland First.
THIS TIME, MISS LAKELAND PAGEANT HAS LOCAL WINNERS
Ever since the Miss Lakeland Pageant was revived three years ago, we’ve wondered why the winners lived in other parts of Florida. It turns out the rules allow young women from all over the state to compete. With the third crew of winners, Lakeland is starting to get represented by people who actually live here — or did until recently. Miss Lakeland is a recent FSC grad who is teaching in Lee County but wants to move back. Miss Polk County is an FSC student. Miss Lakeland Outstanding Teen is a lifelong resident. We’re still represented by a couple of out-of-towners. Miss Swan City is from Tampa, and Miss Polk County Teen lives in Panama City — but occasionally visits her brother at Florida Poly.
TRANSIT HUB ENVISIONED FOR SITE JUST NORTH OF RP FUNDING CENTER
In the next 10 years or so, when you leave Lakeland by Amtrak or Greyhound or transfer between local buses, it might be from a multi-story facility just north of the RP Funding Center. The envisioned transportation hub would also include parking for RP Funding Center — freeing up current surface lots for development — and possibly a bridge to a retail-office-residential complex planned just across the train tracks. City commissioners recently endorsed the transit hub plans and are asking the state Department of Transportation to prioritize it for funding in the next five to 10 years.
GROWING FUND AIMS TO LURE AN AIRLINE TO LAKELAND AIRPORT
Efforts to attract daily commercial air service from Lakeland got a boost recently when county commissioners signaled Polk will participate in a fund to entice an airline here by ensuring it will make a profit in its first year. Lakeland Linder Airport backers are trying to get local governments and businesses to contribute to a fund of $3.5 million to $5 million that could be held in reserve in case an airline needs what Mayor Bill Mutz calls a “backstop.” The city of Lakeland has agreed to contribute $1 million to the fund and is applying for a $750,000 grant for it. Publix Super Markets has kicked in $150,000, and the county was asked to contribute $1 million.
OFFICE BUILDING, GARAGE COMING TO NORTHWEST SHORE OF LAKE MIRROR
Property on the northwest corner of Lake Mirror that stood vacant for more than two decades will become the site of a nine-story office building and garage for Summit Consulting. City commissioners agreed to sell Summit the land for $2.5 million, but the city is also paying that same amount to lease 150 parking spots for the public to use on nights and weekends. The city will kick in a $1 million subsidy and other associated costs like closing fees and document taxes. Summit was given two years to start construction on the 135,000-square-foot tower. The deal passed 5-2, with the dissenting commissioners expressing concerns that the city might be giving away too much in pursuit of the development.
BASEBALL TRAINING CAMP WILL ATTRACT MLB PLAYERS
It looks like more Major League Baseball players will be heading to Lakeland, but you probably won’t see them — and that’s by design. Florida Baseball Ranch, which helps players overcome injuries and trains them to improve their skills, is moving from Plant City to Lakeland. But its rural setting off Galloway Road near I-4 is designed in part to give players maximum privacy. For players flying into Lakeland Linder, it’s just a 10-minute ride up Airport Road to the new training camp. In addition to the pros, Florida Baseball Ranch works with baseball players of all ages who are working to get to the next level.