WILL LAKELAND EXTEND MASK RULES AGAIN?
Will we or won’t we still be wearing face coverings in public places after Oct. 5? That’s the day Lakeland’s mask rules end, unless they are extended by the City Commission into a fourth month. The majority supporting the mask rules shrunk from 5-2 to 4-3 when commissioners last voted in early September. At that time, Mayor Bill Mutz and at least one other commissioner mentioned a goal that they would like to see before voting to end masking: 14 consecutive days of less than 5% of COVID-19 tests in Polk County coming back positive.
TERRACE HOTEL RETURNS TO LOCAL OWNERSHIP
When a former city commissioner and her husband learned that the downtown Lakeland’s landmark Terrace Hotel was up for sale, they decided the 96-year-old institution should return to local ownership. Edie Yates and David Henderson head a five-member investment team that purchased the hotel for $7.25 million from Terrace Properties Partners Ltd., a company led by a Houston investment executive who grew up in Lakeland. The 10-story hotel will be managed by Naples Hotel Group and affiliate with the boutique-oriented Tapestry Collection by Hilton. Plans include enlarging the bar area and updating restrooms in all 88 guest rooms.
LAKELAND CANCELS 40TH ANNUAL CHRISTMAS PARADE
Two Lakeland holiday traditions are taking a year off: flocking to the Christmas Parade in early December and setting chairs up along the parade route in advance. The 40th running of the parade, which lines downtown streets with an estimated 30,000 viewers, has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns. The decision was made jointly by The Junior League of Greater Lakeland, which organizes the parade, and the city of Lakeland, which provides substantial support. Applications to participate in the parade were about one-tenth of their typical volume, city officials said in announcing the cancellation.
MUTZ: CITY SHOULD EXPLORE POLICE BODY CAMERAS
Lakeland’s mayor said he’s talked with many local residents about racial justice since last spring’s protests and prayer vigils, and two topics always come up: economic opportunity and body cameras for police officers. Because he’s heard a “universal” desire to equip Lakeland police with body cameras, Bill Mutz said, he’d like the City Commission to take a deep dive into the topic early next year. Police Chief Ruben Garcia and his predecessors have been reluctant to adopt body cameras because of the costs of maintaining thousands of hours of footage in order to comply with Florida’s public records laws.
BARS OWNERS GET CREATIVE, THEN ALLOWED TO REOPEN
Just as bar owners around Lakeland were figuring out ways to sidestep the state of Florida’s order that they stay closed as a coronavirus precaution, the state gave them the green light to open at 50% capacity. The state action came in mid-September after many bars had obtained licenses that allowed them to reopen as long as they sold food — in most cases, appetizers or quick-serve sandwiches. Still, local bar proprietors say they were treated unfairly. After being closed for nearly three months, they were allowed to open briefly before being shut down again. Meanwhile, restaurants were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity before bars were and didn’t get shut down again.
TRYP AIR BRINGS CHARTER SERVICE TO LINDER AIRPORT
Tryp Air, a charter flight service that recently started service from Lakeland Linder International Airport will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go — but it will cost. Their focus is on trips to the Bahamas and the Southeastern U.S. The company’s TurboProp Pilatus PC12 will fly you and eight of your closest friends or business associates in luxury. Some of the rates shown on Tryp’s website include $4,100 to Freeport/Bimini; a trip to Key West or Tallahassee costs the same. if you hate the stress of driving on Interstate 4, a flight to Orlando is $2,505. That might seem pricey but when those amounts are divided by nine people they are much more reasonable, said Gene Conrad, Lakeland’s airport director.
AS DELGADO LEAVES, COMMISSION NARROWS CITY MANAGER HOPEFULS
Tony Delgado has ended his five-year run as Lakeland’s city manager, and his top deputy, Shawn Sherrouse, is running the show as interim manager while the City Commission decides who to hire to lead the city administration. Sherrouse, a 48-year-old Lakeland native, is one of 119 people who applied for the permanent position. By the time you read this, commissioners will have chosen their top half dozen or so candidates. They plan to interview them via video Oct. 5 and 7, narrow the field down to around 3, and then host the finalists in Lakeland for in-person chats Oct. 12 and 13.
LAKELAND REGIONAL OPENS PEDIATRIC ICU, RESUMES BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CENTER
After a spring and summer focused on the uncertainties of the coronavirus, Lakeland Regional Health had some uplifting news to report in September. First, it opened a 12-bed pediatric intensive care unit, which will allow the hospital to “care for virtually any child that becomes ill in our community, keep them here in Polk County” and avoid transfers to facilities in Tampa and Orlando, according to the hospital President Dr. Timothy J. Regan. Then the hospital announced it has reactivated plans for a 96-bed behavioral health center on the south end of its main campus.
ORLANDO HEALTH GETS APPROVAL FOR LAKELAND HOSPITAL
Hospital companies in Tampa and Orlando are tiptoeing into the Lakeland market, in most cases making exploratory moves by opening small clinics or free-standing emergency rooms. Orlando Health is making a major move. The non-profit organization is planning to build a health-care campus on 80 acres off Lakeland Hills Boulevard just south of the Polk Parkway. Initial plans call for a free-standing ER and medical offices, but long-term plans include a hospital that will be built in stages — first 120 beds, and eventually 360 beds. City commissioners have approved Orlando Health’s request to annex the property and a general development plan.
TRACY MCGRADY BRINGING RESTAURANT HOME TO POLK
Tracy McGrady, a Polk County native and seven-time National Basketball Association all-star, is putting his name, fame and financial backing behind a high-end sports bar that’s all but ready to open at Merchants Walk. However, Tracy McGrady’s HomeCourt won’t admit customers until February, its owners preferring to wait out the worst of the coronavirus. To develop it, McGrady partnered with California-based Salt Partners Group, known for its upscale San Francisco eateries. Amenities include a high-tech golf simulator and a 40-seat oval bar topped with refurbished plans from a basketball court.