Vibrant on First Friday evenings, serene on slow Sunday mornings, full of music Friday nights and close to the many festivals that call Lake Mirror home, Downtown Lakeland lacks a little something – residents. Today, the City’s Community Redevelopment Association staff presented the City Commissioners with “a catalyst for future residential living downtown.“ The CRA introduced a project consisting of a mix of townhomes and lofts that could transform the city’s center by 2013.
Commissioners learned of a plan by the White Challis Revelopment Company to turn 1.22 acres at the corner of Bay Street and Tennessee Avenue from parking to housing. CRA staff informed the commissioners that the proposal was in line with the 2009 Downtown Redevelopment Plan Update that identified the need to increase residential development.
Similar to an urban infill project in Daytona Beach, White Challis wants to build 14 townhomes, 18 lofts and six retail spaces on the North Downtown. In an odd choice of cardinal direction names, White Challis christened the area the “North Market District” and the building complex “New Southern Square.” The 1,200 to 2000 square-foot townhomes (“New Southern City Homes”) would be two or three floor dwellings with a 2-car attached garage. The 800 to 1035 square-foot lofts (“New Southern Lofts”) will sit on top of 5,600 square-feet of retail space.
“Downtown residents provide key activity and life to shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Affordability is clearly emerging as a significant issue facing the downtown housing market.” – Characteristics of Successful Downtowns by the Ithica NY Downtown Partnership
City commissioners will vote Monday to “authorize the appropriate City officials to commence negotiations with White Challis” to begin the project process. In their proposal, White Challis suggested terms they felt were needed to complete the private/public partnership.
White Challis would ask the city to contribute the property, and waive permit application and impact fees. White Challis and the City would collaborate on public and private funding for parking, streetscape, gateway improvements and to remediate any environmental conditions discovered. City Commissioner Justin Troller was assured by staff that the City would retain the property until the project was ready for build.
Lakeland purchased the property in 1999 for $315,000 and it is currently assessed at $318,414. In October 2010, the City asked developers for proposals for a residential mixed-use project on the land. A committee comprised of representatives from the Downtown CRA Advisory Board, the City Manager’s Office and the Community Development Department reviewed the White Challis proposal and recommended their selection.
Commissioner Don Selvage was part of the selection process and was happy with the choice of White Challis. “We have a very progressive young developer willing to invest in our area.”
White Challis will conduct marketing studies to find what area residents would desire to move to downtown Lakeland. Based on their past experience, they they can identify “those pioneering people that can afford and desire to live” in the homes. They expect residents could start moving in 24 to 30 months after the project is approved.
White Challis uses local community organizations, focus groups, social media and targeted public relations to gather information about who the buyers are and what they really want, in order to design projects that are relevant and will sell.
“Local, independent retailers continue to be the dominate form of retailing in most of the sample downtowns.” – Characteristics of Successful Downtowns by the Ithica NY Downtown Partnership
Interview with Co-Developer Jack White
Jack White of White Challis Redevelopment Co. in Daytona Beach talks about how urban planning has the potential to attract people back to areas that were once underdeveloped by listening to the “end user.” — Florida Redevelopment Association
[box type=”shadow”]Editor’s Note: After this article, we’ll create a Bay Street page to follow this story as it progresses. If you’re interested in tracking the development, bookmark: Bay Street Living [/box]