Lakeland's Green Treasure - Lake Mirror Park

April 29, 2011 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Public and private money was used to construct Lakeland's Lake Mirror Park.

Courtesy of the Jacksonville Public Library's online research resources, here is a look at the development of Lake Mirror Park in Downtown Lakeland over the last decade.  As stated in the past, we should employ many of the same cost-effective techniques to downtown and urban core revitalization here as several of our peer cities have already successfully done.

About Lake Mirror Park

Lake Mirror & its Promenade are considered the crown jewel of historic Downtown Lakeland. This community recreation area was the vision of Tom Appleyard, the manager of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce in the early 1920s. Charles W. Leavitt, the noted New York landscape architect, eventually brought Appleyard's vision to reality. Its hallmark seawall, ornate loggias, and the wide palm-lined pedestrian pathways make this lake visually stunning and architecturally distinct.

The Promenade, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983, has often been the hub of local festivities of Downtown. Lake Mirror is surrounded by Kryger Overlook Park, Barnett Family Park, Magnolia Building, Lake Mirror Tower, Hollis Gardens, & the Lake Mirror Complex. Lake Mirror Park and amphitheater were dedicated in the fall of 1999 and Hollis Garden opened in 2000 on the southeast shore. Albert Paley's “Tribute to Volunteerism,” a conspicuously ornate & colorful sculpture, crowns the northeast shore.

Development Timeline

Planner praises Lakeland's redevelopment

The Tampa Tribune - Friday, May 7, 1993
Author: DOUG NURSE, Tribune Staff Writer

....He said that ideally, downtown will become a gathering place where people can eat and drink and shop, indoors and outdoors.

He said many European communities build promenades along river and lake fronts to create pleasant places to eat and relax. He urged city officials to pursue plans to use Lake Mirror that way. He used several slides from cities across the United States and Europe to underline his point.

"You have a couple of lakes without any real environment," Paumier said. " Lake Mirror is a great opportunity for this town. You can make people want to come here. I don't think everyone wants to go to Disney World or Tampa."

Later, Paumier said he doesn't believe the city should hold off on its landscaping and repair program for downtown streets to pay for sprucing up Lake Mirror . He said the community should start planning what it wants to do along the lake.

Lake Mirror in 1946.

Creating a central public space for downtown meant having to deal with FDOT.  While we struggle to get one block of Main Street converted to two-way access, Lakeland successfully took out a FDOT highway.

Lakeland eyes restoring south of promenade
The Tampa Tribune - Sunday, December 25, 1994
Author: DOUG NURSE, Tribune Staff Writer

....Traffic is the biggest question mark.

The state Department of Transportation has had misgivings about closing Lemon Street until the In-Town By-Pass is completed sometime after 2000. The In-Town By-Pass would be a major east-west route connecting with Bartow Highway at Main Street and at George Jenkins Boulevard near Lake Beulah.

Because Lemon Street is a federal highway -- the business route of U.S. Highway 92 -- the city must get permission from state and federal highway officials to eliminate the road and reroute the traffic elsewhere.

Studiale said he believes the traffic will easily divert to other roads, such as Orange and Lime streets. Or when eastbound motorists on Lemon Street hit Massachusetts Avenue, they would take a left for a block and then right on Main Street, which loops north of the lake and continues east on the opposite shore.

"When we've closed Lemon Street south of the lake , we didn't get a mass of complaints," Studiale said. "There's still good circulation. The streets are in a grid pattern. It's not like closing I-4."

To alleviate potential traffic problems, the city plans to add two more lanes on the Main Street loop around the north side of the lake .

Studiale said the inconvenience would be minimal and the benefit to the city substantial.

"The recreation of an asset like this would cause many good things to happen," Studiale said. "This could be the most interesting and spectacular park in Lakeland. We have all this lakeside setting cut off by a road. We've let a great asset not be an asset all these years."

A 1994 aerial of the business route of U.S. Highway 92 circling Lake Mirror with a pair of one-way streets.

Park to rise around Lake Mirror
The Tampa Tribune - Saturday, July 25, 1998
Author: STEVE NEWBORN, of The Tampa Tribune

LAKELAND _ Green grass and trees will be returning to the south shore of Lake Mirror after 45 years.

What was once a park was turned into an asphalt speedway in 1953, when Lemon Street was extended to connect with Main Street on the east side of the lake . On Friday, nature will rule again.

City commissioners will officially close the road at 8 a.m. Friday and hold the groundbreaking for the new park. The park should open in late February, said Bill Tinsley, director of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

The road alongside the lake will be replaced with a walkway of hexagonal bricks, landscaping and antique-style lighting. It will connect with the ornate Lake Mirror Promenade , constructed during the Florida Boom in the 1920s.

The promenade began deteriorating soon after the road was built, because the noise and speed of the traffic intimidated pedestrians who had visited the lake .

The 11-acre park would include refurbishing a bandstand, where the ornate top has been missing for years. The project will cost $1.3 million, Tinsley said.

Traffic going east on Lemon Street will be routed north on Massachusetts Avenue and east on Main Street. The portion of Main Street that is currently one-way through downtown is to become two-way later this year.

Eventually, much of the traffic that goes through Main Street will be diverted around downtown with construction of the In-Town Bypass. The six-lane, 2.1-mile road would begin where Bartow Road dead-ends at Main Street, continue north of downtown along Magnolia Street and connect to the west with George Jenkins Boulevard. Construction of the $25 million highway won't begin until at least 2001.

Although the plan for Lake Mirror Park was grand, an incremental development approach allowed for amenity improvements to be added as financial opportunities arose.

Hollis offers city $1 million garden

The Tampa Tribune - Friday, August 14, 1998
Author: STEVE NEWBORN, of The Tampa Tribune

LAKELAND - A $1.5 million gift from the former boss of Publix could sprout a botanical attraction downtown.

A first-class botanical garden complemented by a central ellipse, lily pad pool and amphitheater soon could grace a downtown park being reborn.

The attraction would come courtesy of Mark Hollis, former president of Publix Super Markets Inc.

Hollis and his wife, Lynn, have offered the city $1 million to build the garden plus a $100,000 annual endowment for five years to pay for maintenance. He approached city officials several months ago, and city commissioners will vote Monday on whether to accept his offer, which may require additional taxpayer money to maintain.

A $1.5 million private-sector gift made Lake Mirror Park's Hollis Gardens a reality. This donation never would have happened if the city hadn't first developed a plan and showed the initiative to implement it.

Hollis Gardens is now a popular setting for outdoor weddings.

Lake Mirror Park takes another step toward grandeur of yesteryear
The Tampa Tribune - Saturday, June 19, 1999
Author: STEVE NEWBORN, The Tampa Tribune

Lake Mirror park is once again an oasis of green in the middle of the city.

The park was scheduled to have its unofficial grand reopening Friday night for A Taste of Lakeland, where pedestrians could sample fares from local restaurants. It was only the first in a series of events that will witness the rebirth of the city's most recognizable vista.

The celebrations will culminate at midnight New Year's Day, when the city's "Celebrate 2000! Megabration" promises concerts, entertainment and a huge fireworks and laser light show over Lake Mirror .

The ornate lampposts and carved balustrade have been restored. A wide walkway has replaced the asphalt blacktop of Lemon Street. And a new amphitheater with raised seating rises from the original boat landing.

"We wanted to do as close as an historical re-creation as we could, while meeting the needs of modern Lakeland as what we perceive it to be - and they're pretty much the same," said Chuck Vilushis of the city's Parks and Recreation Department.

The project cost $1.28 million, and doesn't include the planned Hollis Garden. The botanical garden is to be built just to the south of the park . Mark Hollis, former president of Publix Super Markets Inc., has pledged $1.5 million for the garden. Work should begin in the fall, with the dedication set for next summer, Vilushis said.

City planners intended the park to remain as close as possible to Charles Wellford Leavitt's original 1920s design, although several items were changed. The original crushed gravel walkways weren't feasible for strollers and modern foot traffic, Vilushis said, and new giant round concrete posts discourage motorists from driving into the park .

The original bandstand, which was the setting for many an oom-pah band in days of yore, had to go. For years, the concrete pad was forgotten, and eventually fell into disrepair. City officials said it wasn't large enough to handle modern-day events."You couldn't get the string section out there, let alone an orchestra," said Jim Edwards, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority.

Next on tap is an obelisk that was part of Leavitt's original plans but was never built because of budget cuts. Historic Lakeland Inc., a private group that tries to preserve the city's architectural heritage, is raising money for the project.

With Hollis Gardens quickly becoming "the place" for weddings and special events, the City of Lakeland renovated the adjacent historic Magnolia Building in 2001. One of the first projects in my architectural and planning career, this two-story structure was converted into a special events center on the second floor, and a restaurant space to compliment the park and nearby amphitheatre at ground level.

Did it stop here? No. Once the private sector saw that the city's commitment to making a grand public space was real, more donations came in to fulfill their wish.

Couple offers gift to turn historic hotel site into park
The Tampa Tribune - Saturday, March 10, 2001
Author: BILL HEERY, The Tampa Tribune

LAKELAND - If the city decides to demolish Regency Tower, then Barney and Carol Barnett would contribute $2 million for a park "for everybody."

The historic Regency Tower hotel downtown, once occupied by visiting land speculators during Florida's boom time, may be replaced by a family park .

The city of Lakeland this week purchased the 75-year-old hotel from Tampa businessman Greg Hughes for $650,000, plus $15,000 for closing costs and security for the building, which has been vacant since 1998. The hotel was built in 1926 and its original name was the New Florida Hotel.

The purchase, approved unanimously by the city commission, came after efforts to have someone buy the building and renovate it for office space or apartments had failed.

If the city decides to demolish the building, it has a lucrative offer from Barney Barnett, vice chairman of Publix Super Markets, and his wife, Carol.

The Barnetts have said they would donate $2 million toward a family park to be developed on the half-acre hotel site at the northeast intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Lemon Street and a half-acre of vacant city property on the north side of the hotel. The site overlooks Lake Mirror.

"I would prefer that it be renovated for office space or apartments," Barney Barnett said this week. "If we could preserve the building, I think that would be great, but from everything I've been told, it's too expensive."

Ironically, the hotel ended up being saved (converted into apartments with street-level retail) and the Barnett's $2 million went towards upgrading the public space adjacent to it.

Abandoned since 1991, the former New Florida Hotel, reopened as the Lake Mirror Tower (a 76-unit apartment building) in 2005.

Barnett Family Park opened on the southeastern shore of Lake Mirror in December 2004, after a $2 million gift from Carol Jenkins Barnett and Barney Barnett of Publix. The park includes an innovative children's playground with a "zero-depth" interactive water fountain, and the $1.9 million Peggy Brown Center. The open-air first floor of the center (below) serves as a shaded picnic area for the park.

With the private sector increasingly pitching in, the city continued to invest in other components of the park plan.

Picture-Perfect Plan For Lake Park Moves Ahead With Motel Purchase
The Tampa Tribune - Saturday, January 19, 2002


LAKELAND - Small but picturesque Lake Mirror always has been a focal point for advertising Lakeland.

"As a boy, I remember all the pictures were taken from the east side of Lake Mirror , facing the west and showing the downtown skyline," said Mayor Buddy Fletcher.

Now, city officials hope to make the lake even more prominent as an urban park , with plans to add new structures, renovate old ones and relocate a road so that green space will surround the lake .

"It is a beautiful plan," Fletcher said.

"It will be a destination park . We need more room around there, and this will give us a whole lot of open green space and park space. It's a pretty good-size undertaking."

The goal is to complete the project during the next five to six years. No cost estimate has been developed, the mayor said.

The city commission took a major step last week by approving the purchase of the Lake Mirror Inn on East Main Street at the southeast end of the lake for $875,000.

The motel was appraised at $825,000, and the owner, Satish Pema, was asking $1.2 million, said city spokesman Kevin Cook.

"I don't think we could do any better," Fletcher said. "I'm satisfied we were able to go ahead and get it."

Pema said he is sad about selling the motel, which he has owned since 1989. But he said he doesn't want to stand in the city's way.

"I think it's a good idea," he said of the park plan.

"Lakeland is a great town. It's got a good chamber of commerce."

The city will lease the motel to Pema for $1 a month for two years, and Pema will have an option to lease the motel for a third year, Cook said.

Pema will continue to pay property taxes under the lease.

Plans call for the 60-room motel to be demolished in a few years and a portion of East Main Street on the east side of the lake to be relocated to the east, leaving the motel property and the old street right of way to be turned into green and park space, Cook said.

A master plan for the park includes construction of a law enforcement memorial, a veterans memorial, a pavilion on the north side of the lake , a swan lagoon on the northeast side and a fountain in the middle of the lake.

The amphitheater on the southeast corner of the lake will be improved, and the city-owned Lake Mirror Center on the east side will be renovated. The city-owned Hibiscus Center on the east side will be moved east of the current site and renovated, Cook said.

This recently completed section of the park replaced a four-lane highway and a surface parking lot for the suburban-designed motel mentioned in the quoted article above.

In 2006, another privately-financed gem opened at Lake Mirror Park.

Work on Allen Kryger Overlook Park On Lake Mirror to Be Finished Soon

The Ledger - 2/11/06

LAKELAND - Another gem on the Lake Mirror shoreline is about to shine. Work on Allen Kryger Overlook Park, which is north of the Lake Mirror Tower parking garage and south of Main Street in Lakeland, is proceeding and should be complete in about three months.

The park is a tribute to Allen Kryger, who was the president and chief executive officer of Florida Flavors, one of the world's largest citrus-flavoring companies.

Kryger died of pancreatic cancer in 2002, and his widow, Lynn Fischer Kryger, donated $450,000 for the park in his name.

The park will cover about an acre, and the city plans for it to follow in the popular footsteps of nearby Hollis Garden, the Barnett Family Park and the Peggy Brown Center.

Kryger Overlook Park can be seen on the left side of this image between the Lake Mirror Apartments Tower and Terrace Hotel. The area that was formerly Main Street (greenspace at intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue) will eventually become an outdoor plaza with interactive fountains when funds become available.

Moral of the story (this applies to public/private partnerships in general), if you want to be successful at getting the private sector actively involved with urban core revitalization, the city will need to lead the way. It also means taking a look at things implemented in other cities and evaluating if those methods are worth pursuing locally.  

A Downtown’s Revival

Tampa Tribune, The (FL) - Monday, November 28, 2005

.....Lakeland Follows Trend

Lakeland is like its neighbors Orlando and Tampa, which have had a surge in plans for downtown condominiums in recent years. Skypoint, Tampa’s first residential high-rise in the downtown core, is slated to open in late 2007.

"I think we’re progressing at a steady pace. We’re learning from others. We spend a lot of time in Tampa and St. Petersburg ... Orlando and Winter Park , and we’re looking at how they did it," says Anne Furr, executive director for the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, a special taxing district with an elected board that was formed in 1977.

....Reversing The Decline

Retired City Manager Gene Strickland, the local project coordinator for the Lake Mirror Tower renovation, says downtown was in its worst decline in the late 1970s and 1980s. Once the tower, then known as the Regency, was vacated in 1991 and became an eyesore, some even wanted to tear it down and start anew on the lake .

Strickland, who worked 34 years for the city, 15 as manager, remembers the years of boarded-up buildings, vagrants sleeping on park benches and businesses fleeing to outlying shopping centers.

He supported many proposals to bring life back — some, such as a downtown mall — never materialized.

Because downtown had Maas Bros. and JCPenney, "all we needed was a third anchor store," Strickland says. Instead, the two department stores headed north to Lakeland Square mall.

"Maybe that was good," Strickland says in hindsight. The companies gave the buildings to the city, and by the mid-1990s it had persuaded Watkins Motor Lines Inc. and Publix to put administrative personnel in them.

Finally, there were pedestrians downtown again, eating lunch and needing places to shop, Strickland says.

"Our first effort was to bring life to downtown. That means to bring people. If it takes 25 years for something to go down, very frankly it takes 25 years for something to come back," Strickland says.

The city had held on to the tower and entered an agreement with the Miami-based Carlisle Development Group to restore it. It took 17 months and $12.2 million in public and private funds.

Working with the city to revitalize downtown has been the development authority; the Community Redevelopment Agency, which uses tax increment money to spur development; historic organizations; downtown businesses; and community leaders.

Public improvements led the way for private investments. Key public/private projects include the 1989 restoration of Munn Park , a town square in the middle of the retail district; streetscapes along key thoroughfares; the formal 1.2-acre Hollis Gardens, along Lake Mirror ; and the adjacent Barnett Family Park , designed to attract children and families.

As of 2010, public/private partnerships continue to improve the already diverse offerings of Lake Mirror Park.

Lakeland Gears Up To Build Special Park For Toddlers, Families

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Construction will begin in April on a Lakeland playground to be devoted solely to young families with toddlers ages 3 to 5. The Sunflower Preschool Playground is to be completed in time for its grand opening on Dec. 4, 2010.

"We are very eager to start this play opportunity," says Bill Tinsley, director of Lakeland Parks and Recreation. "We have already started some preliminary design of the park and we know it is going to feature unique playground equipment that is currently not available in our community. Young families are going to be thrilled when this park is completed."

The Sunflower Preschool Playground is to be built in the Mirror Lake district at Barnett Family Park, named for Carol and Barney Barnett of Lakeland. Mrs. Barnett is the daughter of George Jenkins, founder of Publix Supermarkets. It is hoped that the toddler playground will augment the success of the Common Ground Playground, another Lakeland city park.

"Common Ground is just so successful and crowded, you can barely find a place to park," explains Weezie Vreeland, who is spearheading fundraising for the project." And once the older children come, it's hard for toddlers to keep up. We just thought it would be nice to give the little ones their own space."

According to Vreeland, the planned equipment is designed specifically for toddlers to provide a sense of comfort and spatial stability, especially for children with disabilities such as autism. In addition, the plans provide for plenty of shade and room for strollers, as well as an 18-foot square sandbox and other amenities to suit young families.

The project funds grew from a memorial fund for Vreeland's grandson, John Kyle, who died in 2008. Additional funds have been raised by the Lakeland Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, as well as private donors.

If this type of thing can work in a small, yet sprawling city like Lakeland, it can certainly work in Jacksonville.

Article by Ennis Davis