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Lakeland officials hope project boosts downtown

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Lakeland officials hope hotel renovation boosts downtown

Susan Ladika

Special to the Business Journal

As a long vacant, 1920s era hotel undergoes a transformation into an upscale apartment building, officials are hoping the project will help fuel the continuing redevelopment of downtown Lakeland.

Renovation of Lake Mirror Tower is expected to be completed in December, as about 150 hotel-size rooms are converted into 76 one- and two-bedroom apartments, said Gene Strickland, the Central Florida representative of the Carlisle Group, a Miami development company that is tackling the project.

The nine-story Mediterranean Revival-style building with a bell tower overlooks Lake Mirror. It initially opened in 1926 as the Florida Hotel and then went through several incarnations over the years. Most recently it was Regency Tower, a home for senior citizens.

But it closed in 1996 and changed hands several times. Strickland, who retired from the city in 2000 after serving 34 years as assistant city manager and then city manager, said, "We experienced quite a bit of frustration taking the historic building and trying to renovate it. It's terribly expensive."

The city sought proposals for its redevelopment several times, and projects such as an office building and affordable housing were considered. But one party or another would object, and the plans would always unravel. "It just got to be too many cooks in the soup," Strickland said.

There even was talk of tearing down the 80,000-square-foot building, one of three old hotels that once graced downtown Lakeland. The other two have been converted into the luxurious Terrace Hotel and the Arcade Building, an office building owned by the Mid-Florida Credit Union, Strickland said.

The city eventually purchased the building for $600,000, and sought development proposals. It came to an agreement with the Carlisle Group to give the building to the development company, as well as adjacent land for a two-story parking garage for Lake Mirror Tower tenants, Strickland said.

The city also agreed to lend the Carlisle Group $3.5 million at an interest rate of 3 percent. The company had to invest $1 in the redevelopment, and borrow $4 million from a conventional lender. And it is receiving an historic tax credit of about $1.5 million.

The Carlisle Group is not required to pay back the principal on the money it borrowed from the city for 10 years, and at the end of that term the full amount comes due, Strickland said. But if the cash flow exceeds the expenses during the first 10 years, the company has pledged to pay the extra money toward the principal of the loan.

After 10 years, the units might be sold as condominiums, he said.

But for now, the focus is on completing the renovation and renting out the 21 two-bedroom and 55 one-bedroom units. Strickland said he expects the apartments to rent for $850 to $1,600 a month.

The lobby and common areas will be preserved as much as possible to resemble how they looked in the 1920s. "It's pretty much identical to what they were in the old days," Strickland said. The Carlisle Group also is trying to save the doors and the trim in each apartment.

When Lake Mirror Tower is completed, it will be the first market-rate apartment building in downtown Lakeland, he said.

Anne Furr, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said the project will "help us to make downtown a very livable downtown."

Once the units are filled, officials hope it will help draw more retail development to the downtown area, such as a small grocery store, as well as boosting business in the shops and restaurants already located there, Furr said.

In Lake Mirror Tower itself, 1,400 square feet has been set aside for small vendors, she said.

The city already has an ordinance in place requiring 60 percent of the first floor of downtown buildings to be set aside for retail space. "You've got to have retail in downtown or the streets are just going to roll up at night," Furr said.

A number of buildings are vacant on the second story, and Furr said officials hope the Lake Mirror Tower redevelopment will act as a catalyst for others to develop their second stories into residential units. "This will make downtown much more exciting," she said.

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Hotel face-lift has Lakeland officials optimistic

Susan Ladika

Contributing Writer

As a long-vacant, 1920s-era hotel undergoes a transformation into an upscale apartment building, officials are hoping the project will help fuel the continuing redevelopment of downtown Lakeland.

Renovation of Lake Mirror Tower is expected to be completed in December, as about 150 hotel-size rooms are converted into 76 one- and two-bedroom apartments, says Gene Strickland of the Carlisle Group, a Miami development company that is tackling the project.

The nine-story Mediterranean Revival-style building with a bell tower overlooks Lake Mirror. It initially opened in 1926 as the Florida Hotel and then went through several incarnations over the years. Most recently, it was Regency Tower, a home for senior citizens.

But it closed in 1996 and changed hands several times. Strickland, who retired from the city in 2000 after serving 34 years as assistant city manager and then city manager, says, "We experienced quite a bit of frustration taking the historic building and trying to renovate it. It's terribly expensive."

The city sought proposals for its redevelopment several times, and projects such as an office building and affordable housing were considered. But one party or another would object, and the plans would always unravel.

There even was talk of tearing down the 80,000-square-foot building, one of three old hotels that once graced downtown Lakeland. The other two have been converted into the luxurious Terrace Hotel and the Arcade Building, an office building owned by the Mid-Florida Credit Union, Strickland says.

The city eventually purchased the building for $600,000 and sought development proposals. It came to an agreement with the Carlisle Group to give the building to the development company, as well as adjacent land for a two-story parking garage for Lake Mirror Tower tenants.

The city also agreed to lend the Carlisle Group $3.5 million at an interest rate of 3 percent. The company had to invest $1 in the redevelopment and borrow $4 million from a conventional lender. And it is receiving a historic tax credit of $1.5 million.

The Carlisle Group is not required to pay back the principal on the money it borrowed from the city for 10 years, and at the end of that term the full amount comes due, Strickland says. But if the cash flow exceeds the expenses during the first 10 years, the company has pledged to pay the extra money toward the principal of the loan.

After 10 years, the units might be sold as condominiums, he says.

But for now, the focus is on completing the renovation and renting out the 21 two-bedroom and 55 one-bedroom units. Strickland says he expects the apartments to rent for $850 to $1,600 a month.

The lobby and common areas will be preserved as much as possible to resemble how they looked in the 1920s. The Carlisle Group also is trying to save the doors and the trim in each apartment.

When Lake Mirror Tower is completed, it will be the first market-rate apartment building in downtown Lakeland, he says.

Anne Furr, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, says the project will "help us to make downtown very livable."

Once the units are filled, officials hope it will help draw more retail development to the downtown area, such as a small grocery store, as well as boost business in the shops and restaurants already located there, Furr says.

In Lake Mirror Tower itself, 1,400 square feet has been set aside for small vendors, she says.

"You've got to have retail in downtown or the streets are just going to roll up at night," Furr says.

A number of buildings are vacant on the second story, and Furr says officials hope the Lake Mirror Tower redevelopment will act as a catalyst for others to develop their second stories into residential units. "This will make downtown much more exciting," she says.

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Demolition of Tile Plant Gives Downtown More to Work With

By Mary Toothman

The Ledger

LAKELAND Florida Tile is demolishing buildings at its now-closed plant on Lake Wire so potential buyers can put up new structures more appealing to the area, the Realtor handling the property said Tuesday.

"The city doesn't want that raggedy old industrial building in the middle of their downtown," said Chuck Bohac, the Tampa-based vice president of the industrial group with Grubb & Ellis Commercial Florida. "So Florida Tile is being a good neighbor and demolishing it.

"Then the whole site, whatever it is used for, will be nice and new," he said.

Grubb & Ellis has had the property listing at 1 Sykes Blvd. since last year. Located near The Lakeland Center, highway intersections and downtown, the property is considered to have great potential. The site is about 23 acres, but the sale will likely be for about 20 acres, he said.

The Florida Department of Transportation will need two or three acres for a planned in-town bypass project, but Bohac said details have not been worked out yet.

In the meantime, Bohac said there has been a lot of interest in the site. "We have had some serious discussions with multi-use developers," he said. "Some who are interested in office and retail combinations, some who are interested in retail and residential.

"We also had some interest from a movie theater developer interested in putting in a multi-screen theater. We had some interest, too, from some international hotel chains."

Steve Scruggs, executive director of the Lakeland Economic Development Council, said the site is important to downtown. The demolition of the old buildings, he said, will enhance the area. "It's very exciting," he said. "It's a huge plus." The land has had some environmental problems. Florida Tile undertook a $2 million project in 2003 to remove old lead contamination from Lake Wire. It involved dredging 6,000 cubic yards of soil from the southwest corner of the 23-acre lake. The work will be monitored for three years.

Buyers, Bohac said, will be provided with detailed information on the problems and governmental recommendations on solving them.

The property is listed for $8.9 million. An adjacent, 4.5-acre tract is also for sale for $1.2 million. The price has gone up; in July of 2004, the costs were $5.9 million for the main site and $750,000 for the 4.5-acre tract.

"It's just property values going up," Bohac said of the changes.

The cost of demolishing the buildings -- estimated at about $2 million -- will be offset by the earnings from the scrap metal, he said. "It's a wash," he said.

Anne Furr, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, said it's hoped the site can fit in well with downtown's aspirations and plans. The concept of mixed use with retail and office space would be welcome, she said. "That would be, to me, the highest and best use," she said.

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