LKLD ANIMALS 1: SNAKES ON A LAKE GO VIRAL
There’s something about snakes that drives some people to extremes. After the Associated Press picked up a story about water snakes mating in a tree by Lake Hollingsworth, headline writers went into full clickbait mode. “Huge snake orgy forces park to close,” AOL UK screamed. Actually, no park closed. City crews put yellow caution tape around a tree near the lake that didn’t even interfere with the well-traveled walking/jogging path. Hey, AOL UK: Keep calm and carry on.
LAKELAND ANIMALS 2: POSSUM ATTACK GOES SEMI-VIRAL
This one didn’t go international, but the Tampa TV stations got good video after an otter invaded a lakeside home in south Lakeland, fought the family French bulldog and bit the teenage daughter on her leg. The perky daughter and her equally perky mom told an animated story of Mom pouncing on the offending otter and flinging it out the back door. Downside for the daughter: She had to get rabies shots since it was unclear whether the otter was diseased. Downside for the otter: Authorities eventually found it (or a lookalike) and expelled it from the lake.
LAKELAND ANIMALS 3: THEY PUT SWANS BEHIND YELLOW TAPE, TOO
Ah, spring. In Lakeland, that means MLB baseball, an influx of Michigan license tags, and yellow tape near our lakes marking nesting spots for swans. The city Parks Department tries to protect Swan City’s waterfowl mascots when they’re minding their young. This year they’re taking it a step further after somebody snatched a five-week-old cygnet last May. At least one nest is adorned with a sign that says, in essence: Look, but don’t touch. You’re on Candid Camera.
MEDICARE GIVES LAKELAND REGIONAL A ONE-STAR RATING
The latest Hospital Compare ratings from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services again give Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center one star out of five, placing it among the bottom 5 percent of hospitals nationwide. The hospital responds that recent improvements won’t show in the ratings for another year or two and that the rating formulas favor institutions serving affluent communities with highly educated populations.
FLORIDA POLYTECHNIC FIGHTING BILL THAT THREATENS ITS FUTURE
People in Polk are nervously watching a bill involving Florida Polytechnic University and hoping it’s killed before the Legislature adjourns in mid-March. The bill, which came out of a House committee, would place the Lakeland-based university under the administrative control of the University of Florida. Rep. Randy Fine, the Brevard Republican pushing the bill, says it’s a matter of fiscal prudence since per-student costs are far higher at Poly. But university President Randy Avent counters that each dollar spent has “maximum positive impact” in providing “a core STEM education available nowhere else in our state."
LKLD LIVE BRANCHES OUT INTO MORE PERFORMANCE FORMS
Lkld Live, a nonprofit arts venue in downtown Lakeland, is heading in new directions. Housed in a black-box theater in the old Firestone building, it has highlighted a broad variety of music since early 2017. But several music venues have emerged since then, and new Executive Director Nate Fleming wants to add comedy, theater, classes and visual arts to the repertoire. Fleming, 28, founded Swan City Improv, which he will continue to run, along with his Lkld Food Tours venture.
CITY ASKS COMPANIES FOR PLANS TO PARTNER ON INTERNET SERVICE
Will the city of Lakeland grow its 350 miles of fiber optic cable into an Internet service for residents and businesses? Commissioners have made it clear they don’t have the appetite for investing up to $90 million into a municipal-run broadband utility. But they’re still holding out hope for a partnership with an emerging private company. The city is issuing a request for proposals asking companies to submit their best ideas for collaborating with the city on a service offering “reasonable access at a reasonable price point.”
CAR CULTURE 1: NEW GARAGE EXPANDS DOWNTOWN PARKING
The pressure for more public parking downtown decelerated a bit when the Heritage Plaza Parking Garage opened last month at Kentucky Avenue and Orange Street. While most of the spaces are reserved for the garage’s four investors, 49 regular spaces and 10 spaces for disabled people will be available to the public during business hours at $1 per hour. Payment can be made via pay-by-plate machines on the first floor or via the ParkMobile app, using zone 2701. In addition, roughly 200 spaces on the first and second floors controlled by the city of Lakeland will be available to the public for free on evenings and weekends.
CAR CULTURE 2: COUNTERS COLLECT INFO FOR ROAD DIET
Traffic counters were placed in 90+ locations south of downtown recently to gather data on traffic counts, travel times and vehicle types before the upcoming one-year test of the South Florida Avenue “road diet.” That project will involve narrowing Florida Avenue from five lanes to three between Ariana and Lime Streets in order to improve safety, walkability and economic development in Dixieland. Construction is expected to begin around May in prep for the test scheduled to start around October. At the end of the test, city and state officials will analyze the before and after data to weigh whether to make the changes permanent.
CAR CULTURE 3: WABASH AVENUE EXTENSION NEARS
Wabash Avenue will extend northward to Kathleen Road, taking pressure off Harden/Sikes Boulevards and Florida Avenue, now that the city has agreed to spend $380,050 for the last bit of land needed for the project. In addition, planners still hope to extend Wabash from Ariana south to Harden Boulevard near the Polk Parkway, creating a western bypass around Lakeland and opening new areas for development.