LAKELAND – As the once trendsetting Searstown shopping center did for Lakeland decades ago, a new concept in retail design has been proposed for the Midtown property.
Planning consultant Thuy Turner says the new owners hope the Lakeland project builds on the successful project the owners completed in Bradenton.
She has submitted a site plan for review to add a 27,000-square-foot commercial restaurant-ready building. A panel of city planners will hear on Feb. 9 what the consultant at Turner Planning Solutions, LLC of Plantation has in mind for a rectangle building addition in the middle of the ocean-like parking lot at 955 E Memorial Drive.
Turner is shepherding the project through its planning stages including working with Lakeland Community Redevelopment Authority for infill and edge grants. Regarding the project concept, she said, “We’re trying to give it a more urban feel with walkways and outdoor seating and each of our buildings at the end units will be restaurant ready.”
“So if you have a food truck and you are ready to go brick and mortar” the plans take that into account. Once occupying an end unit and if the eatery wants to expand, they can take the next space or the plaza own can add a retail store, she said.
“It’s a good way to bring in local flavors, local businesses that really want to grow their business,” she said of the plans that take into account incremental growth of micro businesses.
In Bradenton, the group rehabilitated an older shopping center once anchored by a Winn-Dixie supermarket and since the rehab it has enjoyed a 90% occupancy rate, Turner said.
The concept, called Onoco Farmers Market, includes a farmers market with stalls similar to the Yellow Green Farmers Market Village in Hollywood as well as mom and pop clothing stores and ethnic foods such as Mexican or Honduran.
“People pay very minimal rent for their space,” she said. “And, it brings in a lot of local neighborhood shoppers. It brings in a lot of local flavors.”
“Our goal is the same for Lakeland; we’re not trying to compete with downtown,” she added. “We would love to have our own food destination that is different.”
Since taking over the property, Turner said, the Lakeland plaza has been spruced up with new façade treatments, a new roof, new air conditioning, renovated bathrooms for handicap-accessibility and it has added more tenants.
The shopping center owned by Lakeland Town Center LLLP of Hollywood is shown owning six parcels in Polk County Property Assessor’s records along Memorial Boulevard East, Parker Street and Lakeshore Drive. A transaction to purchase the property was recorded by the assessor on May 26, 2021 for .
In 2007, a transaction of $32 million for the shopping center was recorded. The sale in 2021 to the current owners was for $10.5 million, county property records showed.
The owners are Sharon Sharaby and Guy Levintin at BSD Capital, LLC of Hollywood, state records showed.
The Lakeland site once hosted a Publix supermarket. Now, a Save A Lot supermarket occupies that space, as well as a Hibachi Buffett, Cash America Pawn, Checkers restaurant, Jacky’s Coin Laundry, Subway, and Rent A Center, among others.
Alis Drumgo, assistant director for the city’s CRA office, said the plans are preliminary and conceptual at this point, but he hopes during the planning and development process to see how the developer plans to execute their vision.
The city has its own vision for the business corridor, he said.
“Sears Town historically has been an activity center that has thrived, much like the Midtown area,… as that big box retail it went away, and it waned,” Drumgo said.
“And so now, you look at how to repurpose these spaces, that Town Center hub is a true opportunity to help reinvigorate business and repurpose that space and that’s why for us we like to support these types of projects where the owner is invested that has successfully brought forth a concept in another area and they think they can pull that off here in Lakeland,” he added.
This shopping center is a very important visual for the Memorial Boulevard East traffic, Drumgo said.
“Before you get out of here and into Auburndale, that’s kind of your last visual coming in and coming out of Lakeland on your way to Auburndale,” he said.
Drumgo went on to say old motels and churches are underutilized space along the Memorial Boulevard corridor considering the increasing traffic counts and density levels anticipated over the next 10 years.
“There is more density and opportunity along Memorial Boulevard that may be should be taken advantage of,” he said.