Lakeland to spend millions to cleanup midtown

Posted at 5:02 PM, Apr 04, 2016

Lakeland city commissioners voted Monday morning to spend $2.3 million and renovate the old Salvation Army buildings in downtown Lakeland.

The buildings, which take up almost an entire city block, have sat empty for nearly a year since the Salvation Army moved to its new location.

"When you have vacant properties, it starts to breed a life of nuisance into other types of problems on the property that you otherwise wouldn't have," said Nicole Travis, community redevelopment agency manager.

At all hours of the day, many in the homeless community will gather outside the buildings or sleep on the doorsteps.

When the Salvation Army was in operation there were even lines of homeless during feeding hours.

"We're hoping that we are changing the look of what the entrance looks like," Travis said.

The redevelopment project is being called Mass Market.

The complex includes an event space that will hold 300 people, an art gallery, and Your Pro Kitchen, a commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs like food truck owners or people selling various food items on their own.

The former transitional houses on the property will be turned into market rate apartments, primarily for students.

"Making it look nice and very welcoming is very important to the city," said Commissioner Jim Malless, who has championed the project.

At $2.3 million, he said there was definitely some sticker shock, but he believes it's all worth it.

Almost an entire city block will now have a purpose and no longer act as a magnet for transients.

"The homeless will be around here less because it's not going to be quite. They're going to be as protected as they were," Malless said.

The city said help and food for the homeless will still be offered as there are two more shelters just down the street.

But the image near Lakeland's grand entrance is about to get a lot cleaner.

"When you have vacant properties, it starts to breed a life of nuisance," Travis said.

A lot of work is expected in the next nine months.