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From The Miami Herald travel section

Lakeland: It's not a rest stop anymore

BY ELLEN CREAGER

Knight Ridder News Service

LAKELAND - You may think this town is nothing but baseball and Hooters.

You are so wrong.

Lakeland, once a drive-by citrus city in central Florida, has transformed itself into a polished quaint city.

With a real downtown, Lakeland has long had the trappings of civilization: pretty lake shores, a symphony, an art museum and a treasure trove of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

But over the past 10 years, its central core has been spruced up. It now has a children's museum. A charmingly remodeled baseball stadium. Just enough swans to be scenic.

It has an antiques district, a dance theater, a convention center, a mall, 49 parks, 11 golf courses, an Amtrak station, a trolley, a bird sanctuary and a few good hotels.

Lakeland's population swells by about 20,000 snowbirds in the winter and spring. Many are from Michigan, down to check out Detroit Tigers spring training at Joker Marchant Stadium. Others are retirees here for the 72-degree weather and modest prices.

Tourists often stay on the far fringes of Lakeland in condos, rental houses, trailers or hotels.

But if that's all they see, it's a shame.

DOWNTOWN SIGHTS

Thriving businesses: In the Munn Park downtown historical district, Raleigh Petteway sits behind the counter in his Reflections of the Past antiques shop. Petteway started the Depression glass shop after his wife died. The shop is a rainbow of shimmering orange, gold, green and blue glass.

How's business?

''I've never lost more money than I've made,'' he says, grinning, holding two pale pink Cambridge Caprice 1936 candlesticks.

Shops and restaurants: The Lakeland native has seen the city in good times and bad and watched with pride as the town has grown up. There are now 60 antiques shops downtown and good restaurants, too.

He likes the Terrace Grill and the revitalized historic Terrace Hotel.

''All my wealthy friends eat there,'' he says.

Downtown streets in Lakeland have whimsical names -- Lemon, Lime and Orange -- reminiscent of its heritage as a citrus capital.

Parks and gardens: Nearby is the town square called Munn Park and Mirror Lake, a perfectly round bit of water with a walkway that leads to Hollis Garden. The gorgeous neoclassical European-style garden was donated to the city by the Hollis family, which has played a leading role with Publix Super Markets, which has its headquarters here, which is one main reason Lakeland is looking so good. The care that wealthy families like the Hollises and local business leaders have taken with this city shows.

SWAN CITY

Two years ago, Lakeland ran a competition called Swansation, in which local businesses decorated fiberglass swans and placed them all over town. Even today, many of the swans remain, representing the city's bird population: It's so large that Lakeland has its own swan veterinarian.

NATIONAL RECOGNITION

Lakeland's good fortune is that it is only about 30 minutes from Disney World but lacks the hectic pace of Orlando. In 1998, the city was named one of the best places to live in America by Money magazine. It has 11 lakes and about 88,000 residents.

THE WRIGHT SCHOOL

Simple buildings: The city is home to Florida Southern College, which is worth visiting because its campus was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I drove there to see the 12 buildings collectively called Child of the Sun, designed by the Chicago architect between 1938 and 1958. At first, I was underwhelmed. A low roofed walkway of concrete and copper wound through the campus. A bunch of buildings of low, angular whitish shapes -- unmistakably Wright -- lounged into the landscape. Then a groundskeeper came by.

Breathtaking chapels: ''Go into the chapels,'' he said, pointing to a door.

Inside Pfeiffer Chapel, hundreds of tiny colored glass windows let in a kaleidoscope of multicolored light all over the room. In the tinier Danforth Chapel, a breathtaking orange and ruby window loomed above thick oak chairs, each thing clunky in its own way, but taken together, transformational. It stopped me in my tracks so I had to sit down.

Actually, I know almost nothing about architecture. I just know that, if you go to Lakeland and don't see the chapels and the other things I have described, you have missed a lot.

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TRAVEL GETAWAYS | WHAT TO KNOW:LAKELAND

Getting there: Lakeland is between Orlando and Tampa. It's a four-hour drive there from South Florida on Florida's Turnpike.

Cost for a two-nighter for two: $340 and up.

EVENTS

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Lakeland's is a nice mid-sized bedroom community between Tampa and Orlando. With its natural landscape and central location, it has a lot of potential to bloom into something special. Unfortunately, the town is run by a powerful group who think with a small town mentality.

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(I think I'll post all Lakeland information here, from no on)

Blooming Business

Major Stores Awaiting Lakeside Village

By Rachel Pleasant

The Ledger

LAKELAND Belk. Kohl's. Bed Bath & Beyond. Talbots. Cobb Theatres. Those were the retailers Brett Hutchens, president and CEO of Casto Southeast, said are definitely signed on with the Lakeside Village project off Harden Boulevard in Lakeland.

Hutchens made the announcement before about 300 local business people at the annual Lakeland Economic Development Council meeting Thursday.

Breakfast was served under a white tent on the site at Lakeside Village. In the background, bulldozers cleared land, making way for the 610,000-square-foot shopping plaza.

Hutchens said negotiations also are being conducted with Chico's, White House/Black Market and J.Jill.

"These retailers are so interested in Lakeland because they have stores in International Plaza, the Brandon mall (Westfield Shoppingtown Brandon) and Mall at Millenia," Hutchens said. "They see that a lot of their business is coming from Polk County and Lakeland."

Sarasota-based Casto Southeast -- which is in the process of changing its name to Casto Lifestyle Properties -- is developing Lakeside Village with Drummond Co.

Other announcements made at the meeting include:

The Village will include 50,000 square feet of office space, though Hutchens said that might increase as the project progresses. The grand opening for Lakeside Village is set for Nov. 1, 2005.

Hutchens said talks were being conducted with Romano's Macaroni Grill and Bravo! -- an Italian restaurant. Other possibilities include Red Star Tavern, which serves steak, seafood and pasta, and Moe's Southwest Grill. Hutchens also said Starbucks would open a location in the Village.

Seth McKeel of Heritage Equities Inc. is preparing to lease the Heritage Business Center. The complex, comprised of eight free-standing brick buildings that range from 22,500 square feet to 32,500 square feet, should be occupied by the fall. The center is located at 2335 A-Z Park Road. Heritage Equities Inc. is working with the City of Lakeland and the Department of Transportation to improve drainage and beautify the roadway.

Havertys Furniture is building a distribution center at 6830 State Road 33. The center will serve 17 stores in Tampa, Orlando, Fort Pierce, Melbourne and Lakeland. About 170 associates will work at the center, many of whom will be transferred within the company. The 225,000square-foot center should open later this year, said general manager Phil Griffin.

Verizon Communications Inc. is hiring about 300 operators for a call center at the company's downtown Lakeland building. Manager Ellen Walker said the operators will take directory assistance calls from mobile phone customers. Interested parties can call 1-800-267-6585 for hiring information.

Fibertech Inc. will open a fiberglass insulation facility at the former Owens-Brockway factory in North Lakeland. Fibertech is a family-owned company based in Salt Lake City. Construction should begin in the fall and the plant should open next year. Jordan Radman, a partner in Fibertech, said over the next two years 300 to 400 jobs could be created at the 275,000-squarefoot building. The Radmans have also placed an offer to buy the neighboring 150,000-square-foot warehouse, which sits on 11 acres and is owned by V.I.P. Structure Inc. of Syracuse, N.Y.

Miritz Citrus Ingredients, a citrus flavoring extraction company based in Munich, Germany, is planning to open a facility at the Corporate Parkway Center in South Lakeland. Miritz will hire between 40 and 50 scientists and engineers. The company serves the beverage, flavor and fragrance industries.

Custom Linen Solutions is operating out of a facility at 2215 Interstate Drive in Lakeland. John Butler of Dublin, Ireland, purchased the 50,000-square-foot building in March. CLS is a laundry service specifically for healthcare facilities. It's located in the former building of the rus company, which cleaned work uniforms. In 2002, Cintas Corp., a competing company, bought the rus company. CLS currently employs 100 and Butler said he thinks that within a year's time he could employ as many as 200.

The Ruthvens are preparing for a number of projects. Greg Ruthven, company president, said ground will be broken on Ruthven Airpark in about 30 days. Located along Drane Field Road, it will include four buildings. The largest will be 78,000 square feet and divided into 5,200-square-foot "warehouse condos" that will be available for lease or purchase. The Airpark will be finished in January. USA Carriers will move to the Airpark. The Ruthvens also are working on two buildings on Gateway Boulevard, off County Line Road in Lakeland. One will measure 45,600 square feet and the other will measure 104,000 square feet.

LEDC Executive Director Steve Scruggs wound up the meeting with additional information. He said a new home improvement store was coming to Lakeland's northside, competing with The Home Depot.

Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman with Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse -- possibly the store -- would not comment on plans for a North Lakeland location.

Scruggs detailed other developments including the free-standing Starbucks being built on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, the Target that recently opened in North Lakeland, the Beall's department store that will go into the spot once occupied by Kmart in North Lakeland and the Ashley Furniture Store being built across from Lakeland Square.

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Lakeland is very odd. I would say teh gateways from the Interstate are not very nice. The town also had a run down feel that is slowly going away. It has a lot going for it and the downtown is in a nice location. It is a bit small but can be lively - though there 70 and 80 scatetred some office buildings about that should be in the mian part of downtown. What it really ahs is some empty land just around downtown crying for something cool. I expect to see it soon (2 or 3 years).

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I wouldn't expect much in 2 or 3 years. The city commission is pretty conservative and it causes them to impose silly restrictions on downtown, that severly limit it, from reaching its potential.

When I stayed there, I had several debates with city officials about downtown & inner city development. Its very frustrating if you're a resident there. In the end, I moved despite the fact that I have several close family members and friends in the area.

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LAKELAND - You may think this town is nothing but baseball and Hooters.

You are so wrong.

Tell me about it. You can't forget the Down and Dirty Lineman camp at Saint Leo University. I mean come on, it's the main attraction!!!! ;)

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Florida Tile plant generates buyer interest

Site could be demolished for the price of its scrap metal

Carl Cronan

Senior staff writer

LAKELAND -- The future of the former Florida Tile Industries Inc. plant west of downtown Lakeland could include a new hotel, high-end condominiums, shops, restaurants and premium office space if the right developer and price come along.

Grubb & Ellis Commercial Florida is marketing the 23-acre site on Lake Wire for $5.9 million, with an adjacent 4.5-acre tract available for $375,000. City leaders express concern that the price may be too excessive given the current condition of the property, but are willing to work with prospective buyers on ideas for redevelopment.

"We have had some serious interest," said Chuck Bohac, vice president of the industrial group with Grubb & Ellis' Tampa office. The firm represents Florida Tile, which manufactured ceramic tile at the site for a half-century before closing earlier this year as part of a company buyout.

Bohac said interested buyers will tear down the 438,000-square-foot facility, though the demolition costs of around $2 million can likely be recovered from the sale of scrap metal, especially given the ongoing steel shortage and subsequent high prices.

"A buyer could demo the site to the slab and break even," he said. "The value of the steel is greater than the cost of the demo."

Lakeland officials have told Bohac they would like to see the Florida Tile site redeveloped into just about anything but industrial use again. They mentioned possibilities such as multifamily residential, Class A offices, retail space, and a hotel and restaurants that would be convenient to The Lakeland Center just across Sikes Boulevard.

"They're anxious to see it redeveloped into something that is more compatible with what surrounds it," Bohac said. "The city is really pro-development. That, to me, is truly amazing."

Development officials in Lakeland are supportive of efforts to convert the Florida Tile property to modern uses that will benefit downtown living conditions as well as the city's tax base.

"We hope to work with the new owner and the city of Lakeland to get a high-quality user over there," said Steve Scruggs, executive director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council. "It will take everyone working together to make that happen."

"I think it will certainly liven up downtown and help us achieve our goals," added Anne Furr, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.

Downtown Lakeland has undergone a sort of renaissance in recent years, including restoration of historic hotels and construction of new offices and other commercial space. The westward expansion of the central business district has meant that Florida Tile no longer fits into the city's skyline in its present form.

A longtime city landmark and mainstay of Lakeland's industrial history, the hulking factory that employed as many as 700 during the 1970s had only a fraction of that number when Florida Tile was acquired last November by MMP Capital Partners, an investment fund of Milestone Merchant Partners LLC.

Matt Galvez, the company's newly-appointed CEO, stated that consumer demand for basic wall tile and trim made in Lakeland was waning, while that for more fashionable products made at two other plants in the Southeast was on the rise. Some of the 127 Lakeland employees were offered jobs at Florida Tile's remaining plants in Lawrenceburg, Ky., and Shannon, Ga.

Florida Tile was established in 1954 by the late Jimmie Sikes, who bought a run-down tile plant for a reported $8,000.

Premark International Inc. bought the company for $201 million in 1990, eight years after Sikes died of a massive heart attack at age 52. Illinois Tool Works Inc. acquired it from Premark in 1999 and put it on the market again two years later.

Florida Tile previously spent $2 million to remove 6,000 cubic yards of lead-contaminated soil from a corner of Lake Wire, and Bohac said the current owner has agreed to clean up any remaining pollution before turning over title to the property. "A buyer will end up with a clean site," he said.

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If i remember right, this is 4 or 5 miles outside of downtown?

Sounds like a nice site for a new urbanist type thing, but seems they're wanting more sprawl.

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Yeah, in some ways, Jax is nothing but a big city version of Lakeland.

ex. courthouse fiasco & bikini bar issue.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yeah, I'll agree with that Lake, I'll agree with that.

An old line from the musical "1776:"

Oh yes they piddle, twiddle, and resolve,

Not one damn thing do they solve,

Piddle, twiddle, and resolve,

Nothing's ever solved in foul, fetid, fumig, foggy, filthy, Jacksonville! (Not so anymore)

FLORIDA SKYRISE ORDER

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LAKELAND - You may think this town is nothing but baseball and Hooters.

It's funny,the first time I moved there was also the first time I saw a Hooters,on S. Florida. I didn't know it was a chain at the time,I thought that was the only one.

When I lived there the main thing that stuck me more than any other was how much open undeveloped land there was in the city. I used to think if they would just build these areas up and keep it at a high suburban density level the city could have at least 200,000 people. I bet Lakeland is one of those areas in Florida that developers are salivating at the thought of doing business there.

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