Elements of Urbanism: Lakeland

July 28, 2010 24 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Fifteen years ago, Downtown Lakeland resembled a dead ghost town. Since then, the decision to stick with a revitalization plan has this old urban district teeming with energy.

Tale of the Tape:

Lakeland Population 2008: 94,406 (City); 584,383 (Metro - 2009) - (incorporated in 1885)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,328,144 (Metro - 2009) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Lakeland (30,851)

City Land Area

Lakeland: 68.79 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2009)

Lakeland: +20.56%
Jacksonville: +18.29%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Lakeland: 199,487 (ranked 151 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Lakeland: 1,654.1
Jacksonville: 2,149.2

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Lakeland: +15,954
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Lakeland: Lakeland Center (1974) - 28,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

The Lakeland Center thrived throughout the 70's and 80's hosting super groups such as ZZ Top, AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac and hundreds of variety acts and performers. The need for continued expansion would lead to plans for increasing conference center space in order to accommodate larger groups interested in making Lakeland their home. The name was changed to The Lakeland Center in June 1994 and construction was started to double the size of the Sikes Exhibition Hall and renovate the Youkey Theatre and Jenkins Arena. In 1996, the $20 million dollar expansion was completed.

Connected to Convention Center:

Lakeland: Hyatt Place Hotel - 128 units  
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Lakeland: Marble Arcade Building - 141 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Lakeland: Publix Super Markets (99)
Jacksonville: CSX (259), Winn-Dixie (306), Fidelity National Financial (366)


Urban infill obstacles:

Lakeland: Conservative city policies limit the potential of urban redevelopment opportunities.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Lakeland: Kentucky Avenue/Main Street in the vicinity of Munn Park
Jacksonville: East Bay Street


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Lakeland: 86 out of 100, according to walkscore.com, downtown Lakeland as keyword
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

Visual Information

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current (Red) and original (Green) city limit boundaries over Lakeland's land area (Orange).

About Lakeland

Lakeland is a city in Polk County, Florida, United States, located approximately midway between Tampa and Orlando along Interstate 4. According to the 2008 U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the city had a population of 94,406 and is the 2nd largest inland city in Florida. Lakeland is a principal city of the Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated population of 584,383 in July, 2009 based on data from the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research. It is twinned with Richmond Hill, Ontario, Imabari, Japan, Balti, Moldova and Portmore, Jamaica as part of the Sister Cities program.

Munn Park Historic District (Downtown Lakeland)

Historic Munn Park - the city's town square since 1884 -- was rebuilt with new radial walkways that invite the 8,500 who work downtown and Lakeland visitors into re-opened shops, galleries and antique stores.

Munn Park, located in the center of the business section was given to the city of Lakeland by the town’s founder, Abraham Godwin Munn, in 1884 and was known as the Town Square or The Park until it was officially named for Munn in April 1908. In 1910, the Lakeland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected a monument – a nameless soldier standing atop a marble column – to commemorate the Southern soldiers of the Civil War.

The Polk Theatre in Lakeland, Florida is a historic theater located at 121 South Florida Avenue.

The 1,400 seat theatre was built in 1928 after the local business "boom" of the town had ended and despite the fact that the population was only 15,000 inhabitants. In 1982, a group of concerned citizens banded together to save the theatre from being raised due to low attendance. Local citizens formed a non-profit group, borrowed money, secured a grant from the state, and purchased the theatre for $300,000. The Theatre has a mezzanine, a high balcony, a permanent backdrop of a "Venetian piazza," an orchestral pit, high twinkling stars, a cloud-covered ceiling, and terrazo floor. The air-conditioning system (the first in the county) was a pump that used artesian well water to chill the building.

Under the name Polk Theatre and Office Building, the building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

Kentucky Avenue

Kentucky Avenue is a tree lined corridor in the heart of downtown Lakeland that is dominated by a mix of restaurants, bars, retail boutiques and lofts.  It is an example of what Jacksonville's Laura and Adams Streets can be with proper planning.

Explorations V Children's Museum has been an interactive adventure for children of all ages since 1991. Three stories high, it covers the spectrum of science, health, consumer issues and world culture. The world exhibits offer children the opportunity to get their Impressions Gallery Passports stamped each time they participate in one of the specific activities, like visiting an Aztec market or making a Nigerian Akuaba doll. They can shop like their parents do for groceries in the explore store, the most popular exhibit. They can also act like a star as they dress for theatre and dancing parts in the theater exhibit.

The museum sponsors field trips and workshops for such activities as candle making, rope making, to name just a couple. Throw a special birthday party for your son or daughter. Explorations V offers such party themes as chemistry and princess tea parties, which are a change of pace from the Chuck E. Cheese fare!

Main Street

Formerly a major one-way highway (Business US 98/92), Main Street has seen an increase in street level businesses after being converted into a pedestrian friendly two-way roadway.

Hotel Lakeland Terrace (329 Main St.), opened in 1924. Combining Mediterranean influences with more classical design elements, painted stucco exterior, elaborate Italianate entrance detailing, and ornate lobby with mezzanine, it is the best local example of the Florida Boom and its unbridled optimism.  After decades of blight and abandonment, the hotel was restored and reopened in 1998.

When the Lakeland Terrace Hotel first opened her doors in 1924, she was hailed as one of Florida's finest new year round inns, which at the time was a rather novel concept. Prior to then, and the wide availability of air conditioning, hotels simply opened for “The Season,” and closed for the summer.

Fortunately, the prosperity of the early 1920s meant that tourists by the trainload were pouring into cities in the Sunshine State, like Lakeland. The warm weather and the lucrative real estate market made the journey all the more enticing.

Seeing this influx of tourism and trade, Florida Collier Court Hotels built their comfortable hotel in the heart of downtown Lakeland, a sister to other hotels in Miami, West Palm Beach, and Tampa.

In those days, guests entered the hotel from Main Street, via a luxurious tropical garden that opened on to Massachusetts Avenue. There, guests were immediately greeted by potted palms that accentuated the majestic, high-ceiling lobby. Huge French windows in the lounge overlooked Lake Mirror. From her ample restaurant and bar, visitors enjoyed fine meals served in a restful atmosphere. Guest rooms were simply and thoughtfully appointed with then-modern comforts and conveniences that few other hotels could match.

In 1998, The Lakeland Terrace re-opened her doors as downtown's newest hotel. FCA Group, headed by Robert Scharar, a Lakeland native, restored her charming historic exterior, completely refurbishing the hotel to luxurious modern standards. In addition to 73 spacious hotel rooms, The Terrace Hotel also offers 15 comfortable guest suites, plus elegant conference and banquet facilities. Professionally decorated, guestrooms capture the hotel's original style while indulging the needs of modern-day travelers.

Today, The Terrace Hotel's exceptional beauty continues to win over guest after guest. From the period black and white ceramic tile to nostalgic furnishings, guests are taken by the hotel's historic charms and well-known hospitality. The hotel's signature restaurant, The Terrace Grille, extends into the main foyer where you'll enjoy leisurely breakfasts, luncheons and dinners. At The Terrace Bar, you and other guests can gather for conversation and premium cocktails.

Lemon Street

One block south of Main, Lemon Street's atmosphere has also been transformed after its conversion from a three-lane one way highway into a two-way roadway.  In addition to its two-way conversion, extra space was converted into a linear park called the Lemon Street Promenade.

Originally known as the New Florida Hotel, the Lake Mirror Tower opened in 2005 after a $10.7 million renovation and years of being threatened for demolition.

The Lake Mirror Tower, designated a historic site, is an example of local boom-time architecture. Designed in the Mediterranean Revival style, the building serves as one of historic Downtown Lakeland’s many signature landmarks standing proudly on the shores of Lake Mirror, overlooking Kryger Overloofk Park & the Promenade. Lake Mirror has been the focal point of the City of Lakeland’s improvements in recent years. Prior to an extended vacancy, the property served as a residence hotel for senior citizens.

Construction originally began on the landmark site in 1926 and was completed in 1935. The property is one of the three Lakeland ‘skyscrapers’ built in the 1920s. The redevelopment and historic renovation, with a total project cost of approximately $12.2 million, was a public/private partnership between Carlisle Development Group, the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) and the City of Lakeland. It was also supported by the Lakeland Downtown Development Agency, (LDDA) and the Lakeland Historic Preservation Board. The apartment development has 76 apartment units consisting of 55- 1 bedroom/1bathroom units and 21- 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms units. Amenities include a lap pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, recreation room and pool table, covered parking, , key card entry, on site laundromat, and a rooftop sundeck that overlooks the entire city. What a view!

Saving The building

The property was not always this deluxe in terms of amenities, despite its early status as one of Lakeland's three skyscrapers.
Built in the 1920s, the edifice displayed textured stucco walls and bracketed roofs. The decorative corners and curvilinear top of the bell tower distinguished the building from the structures that surrounded it.

But its unique contribution to the Lakeland skyline was nearly lost. After the property became vacant in 1991, the old hotel's days appeared to be numbered.

But Lakeland residents fought to preserve their city landmark–and they won. The city even offered subsidized incentives to developers who were interested in renovating the deteriorating building. The winning choice? Carlisle Development Group.

"[Lakeland] has a track record of saving buildings that were on the chopping block and have been successfully reused, so I think that is what spurred the renovation of this building," says Lynn Schindler, a senior planner for the city of Lakeland. "Once you demolish a building, it's gone forever."

The Marble Arcade Building, 129 South Kentucky Ave., (NW corner of Lemon St.), built in 1928. This was Lakeland’s first high-rise office building with a 10 story rectangular tower. Today, it is home to the headquarters of MIDFLORIDA Credit Union.

MIDFLORIDA began in 1954 as Polk County Teachers Credit Union. The Polk County School Superintendent told a young history teacher, Rebecca Keith, that Polk County teachers needed a credit union and asked if she would manage the credit union as its first Treasurer. Mrs. Keith went about setting all the appropriate paperwork in line and began accepting deposits, which she was known to keep in a shoebox at her home.

From the meager beginnings of a shoebox, MIDFLORIDA has grown to include 23 branches, 450 employees and more than $1 billion in assets. Presently, we are servicing over 127,000 members in the Central Florida area with products and services that rival any local bank, while maintaining the Credit Union philosophy of excellent personal attention.

Lemon Street Promenade

A three-block greenway has transformed 50 feet along the south side of Lemon Street into an outdoors sculpture garden. Year to year, the look completely changes as winning submissions from an annual and nationally recognized Lakeland sculpture competition replace the previous year's work.

Lake Mirror Park

Lake Mirror Promenade, built in 1928, was designed by the noted landscape architect Charles Welford Leavitt. An ornate balustrade with classical ornamentation surrounds the lake. Part of the Civic Center plan, which included a gazebo-like band shell in a park, it is being returned to its original plan.

Renewal of the Lake Mirror waterfront itself shows dramatic improvement.

An almost 70-year-old promenade that dates from the City Beautiful Movement of the last century has seen its sculptural pylons and balustrades, its lights, walls and stairs renewed. Private donors installed the Hollis Garden, which depicts the botanical history of Florida in 16 outdoors rooms, and Barnett Children's Park, a playground of sculptures that introduces children to Florida fauna. Also new on the lake is the city-built Peggy Brown Community Center.

The park's 3,300-foot circumference has become a popular downtown jogging path, but everyone else is here too: strollers, tots in prams, lovers of outdoors beauty, lovers.

Sculptor Albert Paley's exuberant work that looks like an exploded fruit salad dedicated to Lakeland's volunteer spirit marks renewal of the east and north shores of the lake.

Relocation of Highway 98 allows a planned gateway park along the east shore to connect by walkway with a planned north shore pavilion of outdoor cafes and shops. The walkway will continue west up Main Street into downtown. This parallels the promenade along the south shore of the lake that extends west into downtown along Lemon Street.

Lake Mirror Promenade - added 1983 - 1925-1949 - Trauger, H.B., Leavitt, Charles Wellford
The Lake Mirror Promenade (also known as the First Civic Center) is a historic site in Lakeland, Florida. It is located between Lemon Street and Lake Mirror Drive. On January 27, 1983, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The project was built in two phases and completed in 1928. Charles W. Leavitt of New York was the designer.

Lake Mirror Park in 1994

Lake Mirror Park in 2007

The original Lakeland Station was built by the South Florida Railroad as far back as between 1884 and 1886. The station opened in 1886 as a two-story wooden structure that was burned down in 1901 and rebuilt shortly afterwards. Unfortunately, the 1902 replacement proved to be inadequate for contemporary railroad needs, and was torn down and replaced in 1910 by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad with a one-story brick building. This too would be hit by a fire in February 1918 that caused $25,000 worth of damage, but not enough to destroy the building as the 1901 fire did. The building was given a second story and reopened on January 31, 1919.

The current Lakeland Station was originally built in 1998 as a replacement for the 1960-built [Atlantic Coast Line] station about a mile west of the current station, which became a Seaboard Coast Line station when the Atlantic Coast Line and Seaboard Air Line merged July 1, 1967. Though the passenger platforms and covers remain at the former station site, the former SCL station was demolished in 2008.
Besides the Silver Star, Thruway Motorcoach service, is provided for Amtrak to Orlando, Tampa, Pinellas Park-St. Petersburg, Bradenton, Sarasota, Port Charlotte and Fort Myers. It also provides additional Thruway Motorcoach service to Zephyrhills, Dade City, Wildwood, Ocala, Gainesville, Waldo, and Jacksonville, since the former Palmetto was discontinued south of Savannah, Georgia in 2004.

Dixieland Historic District

In desperate need of pedestrian friendly amenities and buffering from automobile traffic, Dixieland's South Florida Avenue has become a hotspot for new businesses and building renovations.

What is now the Dixieland Historic District originated in 1907 when local real estate developers Henry B. Carter and C. W. Deen purchased 160 acres between Lakes Hollingsworth and Morton. They christened their proposed new development Dixieland, apparently because it was the first subdivision in Lakeland to be developed south of the downtown area. By 1910 streets had been laid out and a water system installed. Carter and Deen placed an ad in local newspapers promoting the area as Lakeland's "fashionable suburb" and the "surest, safest investment in Florida."

Although it may not have been the "surest, safest investment in Florida," Dixieland grew steadily over the decades as a mixed residential and commercial neighborhood. Roughly one third (400+) of the private residences in Dixieland were built during "boom" periods in the 1920's and the 1940's. Most of these homes are of the bungalow style of architecture so popular in Florida in the first half of the twentieth century.

After an historic site survey completed in 1993 confirmed the number of structures in the district more than fifty years old, Dixieland was accorded historic district status by the Lakeland City Commission. It also gained listing on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district. The district, bound by Walnut Street, South Florida Avenue, Lenox Street and Hartsell Avenue, was the fourth neighborhood in Lakeland to be so honored.

The designation as an historic district spurred revitalization efforts in Dixieland through the 1990's. Those efforts continue. In the spring of 2000, the Lakeland City Commission adopted regulations intended to preserve the architectural heritage of Dixieland. The regulations only govern changes to the exterior of structures, but do require property owners to get city approval before renovation or demolition can begin. Similar regulations were adopted for other historic neighborhoods in the city and are credited with acting as a catalyst for the revitalization of those neighborhoods.

Parking for businesses along South Florida Avenue is located behind buildings with access from alleys.  Such a concept could be explored for Jacksonville's Main Street as the Springfield Historic District continues to revitalize in the future.

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College is located just south of downtown Lakeland and is home to the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world.  Frank Llyod Wright was a mentor to Jacksonville's famed H.J. Klutho.

Florida Southern College (commonly referred to as Florida Southern or FSC) is a private college located in Lakeland, Florida. It was selected by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top ten Southern Comprehensive Colleges-Bachelors, and by The Princeton Review as a Best Southeastern College, a Best Value College, and included in the Best 366 Colleges: 2008, Florida Southern is the home of the world’s largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.


The college was founded in Orlando in 1856, and moved to Leesburg in 1885 (some debate this to be the true establishment) under the sponsorship of the United Methodist Church and was open to both male and female students. It moved to Sutherland (now Palm Harbor) in 1901 and changed its name to Southern College. Due to fires in the early 1920s it was temporarily relocated to Clearwater Beach and then moved to Lakeland in 1922. In 1935 it was renamed Florida Southern College by the trustees.

The present campus comprises some 64 buildings on 100 acres of land and is the home of the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. The campus itself is designated a National Historic District, due to the historic significance of its buildings.

Annie Pfeiffer Chapel

Water Dome

Lakeland's efforts to follow a long term vision for its downtown area continue to bring successful results.  Although significantly smaller than Jacksonville, many of the principles implemented in Lakeland are worth exploring in Jacksonville.

Article and Photos by Ennis Davis