A Lakeland Wish List

So much continues to change and grow and improve in our community. Since I last posted on this blog nearly five years ago, Florida Poly has arrived, Dixieland has had a renaissance, Disney has filmed a movie here, we have a First Watch, the Confederate monument in Munn Park was moved, Bonnet Springs Park is happening, and the list goes on and on.

But there is still much to do, with exciting things already happening, such as the Amazon freight terminal coming to Lakeland Linder International (still feels weird to write ‘International,’ but it’s awesome). With that in mind, I wanted to return to this writing endeavor with a (certainly incomplete) wish list of what I’d like to see next on the horizon.

In no particular order….

  • Commercial flights at Lakeland Linder – Can I get an amen?!?! The city has the data showing how many people from Lakeland fly out of Tampa and Orlando on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and we’re strong compared with many other cities that have commercial flights. It just makes sense, and I know it’s going to happen eventually. The related wish to this is that people will actually use the service so that we can prove worthy of the investment that our city has made and that a carrier will eventually make in us.
  • Higher ed synergy – It’s frankly ludicrous that Southeastern and Florida Southern don’t play athletic exhibitions against each other. The blame of that longstanding anomaly falls primarily at FSC’s feet, but it’s a symptom of a deeper lack of cooperation among the colleges and universities in Lakeland. There certainly have been attempts at working together and progress made on some fronts, but think of the potential if there was a true, concerted effort among FSC, SEU, Florida Poly and Polk State to leverage resources to serve Lakeland/Polk students and make our community better. Each institution is unique in its mission and ultimately designed to serve different populations, so the opportunity to work together and not sacrifice institutional success is real. It would probably take an independent entity to bring the parties together and come up with a strategy/priorities, but it can and should happen.
  • Unity and opportunity – This is a bit non-specific, but Lakeland has some real fault lines and blind spots. North-Siders and South-Siders don’t typically mix. Socio-economic and racial divisions still exist. Drugs and poverty and education are problems that have yet to be solved. We’re far from the inequality problems of places like Los Angeles and Seattle, but probably not as far off as we think. City leaders appear to be taking notice, and groups such as PEACE (Polk Ecumenical Action Council for Empowerment), local nonprofits and churches are doing great work. But we need to do more, and I hope that concerted effort and collaboration can reduce homelessness, raise economic opportunity and improve our schools for the benefit of everyone.
  • Downtown development – I have to be careful what I say there (I think?), since I now work at a company that’s been rumored to build a large office building downtown. Careful or not, I hope downtown development explodes. It’s so cool going there now and seeing the cranes and construction crews working on the new parking garage at Kentucky and Orange. And the work on the Catapult 3.0 (or is it 4.0? 5.0?) site. And all the new restaurants. It almost feels like Nashville or Austin or some other big city that’s moving forward. We need apartments. We need parking. We need stores that stay open past 6 p.m. on weekends. We need it all, and I think it’s coming, but we can’t sit on our hands either or the opportunity may pass. City leaders and developers need to both be bold and pursue progress.
  • Broadband utility – Thank you, Commissioner Justin Troller, for almost single-handedly keeping this conversation going. I want Lakeland to have a city-owned broadband utility service. I’m a free market guy, but in this case I want government in the market providing a better service at a better price for the most critical utility we’ll have in the next 30-40 years. It’s worked out for us with Lakeland Electric, and it can work out for us here, too. Other cities have done it (research Chattanooga, in particular) and it would be a statement move that shows we’re committed to technology and the infrastructure of the future.
  • More and more sports – Let’s build the soccer stadium next to the RP Funding Center. Let’s keep the Lakeland Magic successful. Bring in more state high school championship events. DON’T TOUCH CLEVELAND HEIGHTS GOLF COURSE (that one’s selfish for me as a golfer, but it really is a great resource for the city that gives money back to countless groups in Lakeland who host fundraising tournaments there). Maintain our parks for youth soccer and baseball and tennis. Keep investing in the facilities and experience at Joker Marchant for both the Detroit Tigers and Lakeland Flying Tigers. Support local college and high school teams. Basically just keep doing what we’re doing and more of it.
  • More arts & culture – We already have our own symphony orchestra and an art museum. We have a community theater and a school for the arts, plus colleges with strong performance departments. It would be awesome to see some bigger shows and concerts swing through Lakeland, but that’s a combo effort between venues being able to book those performances and then the community actually showing up to them. There really isn’t much that anyone would need to travel to Tampa or Orlando for in the way of entertainment, particularly with parks such as Legoland or Bok Tower so close. But bringing in some bigger shows and then actually packing the seats for them would take us to another level.
  • Keep the small town feel – As we grow, I don’t want Lakeland to start feeling too big. I still love seeing people I know every time I go to Publix or go to dinner downtown. So much of the city is still familiar from 25 years ago when I was 10 and going to the Family Fun Center or Dobbins Park to play. Or Baskin Robbins for a treat. Or Merchants Walk for a movie (yeah, I know, the theater is gone but I still go to Merchants Walk only now it’s for yarn for my wife from Hobby Lobby). Mixing that foundation with Haus 820 and Nineteen61, with Common Ground Park and Hollis Gardens, with Lakeside Village … It all works. Let’s strive to keep that balance.

It’s an exciting time to live in Lakeland, and with a few wishes granted it could be even better!

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