Seniors Wait for Highly Sought Vaccine Dates

Scoring an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine was pretty much top of mind for Floridians age 65 and older (and in many cases their family members) after Gov. Ron DeSantis made seniors a priority group for the shots. Demand way outpaced supply. Among the state’s 10 largest counties, Polk was last in its allocation of vaccines per capita. Two phone registration systems in Polk were unable to keep up with the thousands trying to make appointments. Finally an online system at was able to get large numbers signed up; appointments are first-come, first-serve, so the wait continues for many.


Land Donations Boost Plans to Connect Rec Trails

Plans to link the Bartow-to-Lakeland Fort Fraser Trail with the city of Lakeland’s recreational trail system moved ahead when Polk County commissioners accepted two land donations. Ed Holloway, owner of the Sanlan RV & Golf Resort, and Orlando Health each are donating long 40-foot-wide strips of land for the city-county-state project to place an asphalt recreation trail that will parallel the Polk Parkway between U.S. 98 and Lakeland Highlands Road.


Bank’s Celebration Morphed Into Philanthropy

Disappointment transformed into philanthropy when the pandemic scuttled plans by Polk-based Citizens Bank & Trust to celebrate its 100th birthday. Funds set aside for celebration events were redirected toward “100 Days of Giving,” which granted $100,000 total to 29 local non-profit organizations that provide basic needs: food, clothes, shelter. The grants are being announced over a four-month period that extends into March, but the agencies received the grants in time to help during the winter holidays.


City Commission Issues Resolution Urging COVID Precautions

After the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Polk County rose to new heights at the end of the year, the Lakeland City Commission called a special meeting to get an update on the crisis from local health leaders. The heads of Lakeland Regional Health and Watson Clinic told them that the increased load from the virus was stretching their staffs thin and impeding their ability to continue quality care for all patients. In response, Commissioner Don Selvage called for a 100-day mask mandate. The other six commissioners declined to go that route. Ultimately, the commission passed a resolution strongly urging local residents and businesses to follow social distancing, masking and hygiene safeguards.


Bank Approved To Replace Nathan’s Men’s Store 

People have been wondering what’s going to happen to the landmark Nathan’s Men’s Store across from Munn Park after owner Harris Estroff announced last spring he would be retiring and closing the shop that’s been in his family for 78 years. It looks like the main tenant of the brick building at Main and Kentucky will be a bank. City commissioners recently allowed a bank to occupy half of the first floor. The other half will be used as banquet space for the next-door restaurant, Nineteen61. A remodeled second floor will house offices. Nobody would name the bank when the needed approval came up at two city meetings.


So Long, Gary; We Hardly Knew You

Gary, the turkey who arrived at Lake Morton in September and brought amusement and levity in a time of pandemic uncertainty, has died. Gary’s age was unknown, as was the cause of death. Gary’s gender was also the subject of speculation, yet the name stuck after Lakeland residents had a chance to vote on a monicker for the mystery gobbler. Final arrangements were handled by Lakeland Parks Department. In lieu of flowers, mourners are asked to keep Lake Morton clean and to feed the remaining birds foods that are healthy for them — cut seedless grapes, cooked rice, birdseed, peas, corn, oats, chopped lettuce — instead of bread.


City Seeking Relief From Jets’ Rumble

Lakeland residents were happy when they learned that Amazon was building a large air cargo center at Lakeland Linder Airport that would bring in new jobs and fill city coffers. They were less happy when they started hearing the rumble of low-flying Boeing 737s and 767s several times a day after the facility opened last summer. It turns out that aircraft departing Linder are forced to fly beneath 2,000 feet until cleared to go higher by air traffic controllers in Tampa. A steeper ascent would produce less noise, and Mayor Bill Mutz sought relief by asking federal aviation officials to relax the altitude limits, even if it only applies at night and in the early morning. People who have dealt with the Federal Aviation Authority say a quick remedy shouldn’t be expected.


Hitting the Brakes: Lake Mirror Car Show May Be Exiting

Lakeland’s annual classic car show may have hit a dead end. MidFlorida Credit Union, which has sponsored and organized the show for the last three years, has bowed out. The financial institution is expanding its footprint well beyond its Lakeland base and says that the Lake Mirror auto show was consuming far too much of its staff and financial resources. MidFlorida took responsibility for the three-day October show after the retirement of Ford Heacock, who ran an insurance agency and founded the car classic 20 years ago. Ideas for keeping the show alive have included finding a sponsor who would be willing to produce an event slimmed down to one day and staying in a more confined area.


Plant Closing Ends Coal Era At City Utility

The era of burning coal to make electricity is about to end at Lakeland Electric. The city-owned utility plans to shut its McIntosh 3 power plant on March 31 and then disassemble it. The utility had earlier targeted fall 2024 to close the plant on the east side of Lake Parker. But utility executives said they could save $13.1 million by moving up the shut-down date. Most of the remaining generation at Lakeland Electric is powered by natural gas, but the utility is exploring next-generation fuel sources they hope to bring online by 2023. Until then, any gaps in power generation will be filled by Orlando Utilities Commission, under a contract approved by city commissioners in January. The plant closure is expected to result in the layoffs of around 60 employees; City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said managers are helping displaced workers find new jobs or get training.


Southwest Lakeland Apartments Approved Despite Objections

New apartments are needed in Southwest Lakeland to accommodate young professionals working in businesses popping up in that part of town, according to the developers of just such a complex. The proposed 300-unit Parkway Preserve complex would be placed along Airport Road near the entrance of the Carillon Lakes community. And the prospects of three-story apartments and traffic at their entrance has upset residents of the community of mostly single-family homes geared to the 55+ crowd. They took their objections to a meeting of the Lakeland City Commission, but commissioners sided with the developer in a 4-2 vote. There still could be a legal challenge involving ownership of the road into the development.


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