Lakeland downtown construction hurting business

Posted at 8:29 PM, Jan 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-26 20:29:36-05

A major construction project in downtown Lakeland promises to bring new businesses to town, but it may lose some in the process.

Four months into the NOBAY construction project, some businesses have noticed a major slump in sales. This has forced at least one shop to close its doors, and others are thinking about their options.

"The lack of visibility has totally shut down business," said Marni Johnson, Owner of Home Essentials.

Her business is just feet away from the construction. She's so close to the two-by-fours, she has a giant sign alerting customers that she's still open.

On the sidewalk, Johnson is even promoting a "We're Still Here" sale just to get someone in the door.

"My point is that the city permitted us 15 years ago and said you can do this, put your entrances here, come on down, pay taxes and make this work," she said.

Johnson said she has made it work up until the NOBAY project began. The development is bringing trendy new stores, restaurants and much-needed apartments to downtown.

The biggest frustration for businesses is parking. The development is standing on what used to be a giant parking lot.

The lack of parking is a driving factor in what forced Tony's Studio B wine bar to shut its doors for good, according to the owner.

The city said it has made additional parking available a block away, and plans to make room for more later.

"We planned for a building to be there, not a parking lot, and as the economy has picked up, we had a developer come, and they purchased the land from us," said Kevin Cook, Spokesperson for the City of Lakeland.

Johnson said when the project is complete, the NOBAY building will tower over her business, leaving nothing but a six-foot wide walkway to her door.

The tight quarters, she said, may force her to pack up and move out also.

"I feel that the city is making a mistake," she said.