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Lakeland's long-neglected railyards transformed into a recreational haven


Park Place

Lakeland’s long-neglected railyards are becoming a recreational haven.

In the 1880s, Lakeland’s railyards were a busy hub of commerce, shipping Florida citrus and phosphate to cities and ports across the nation. By the 1980s, however, the railyards were mostly abandoned, the land cluttered by weeds and trash.

In 2016, Polk County community leaders — including developer David Bunch, retired Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bill Tinsley, and Carol and Barney Barnett of the Publix Super Markets family — decided to do something about the languishing 168-acre property just northwest of downtown. They began planning a privately funded park — a project named Bonnet Springs Park — that they envisioned to be as important to Lakeland as Central Park is to New York City.

By the end of this month, after more than three years of construction — including the hauling away of 36 tons of illegally dumped trash and the removal of various contaminants left behind by the railroads — the $110-million park will officially open.

The park’s amenities will include a children’s museum, an events center, a playground, a welcome center, a restaurant, a boat house, classrooms, a nature center, aquariums and a treehouse. Outdoor activities will include a canopy walk, botanical gardens and walking and bike trails. Admission will be free.

“It’s been a long time coming, and our grand opening will show the wait was worth it,” says Josh Henderson, the park’s CEO.


  • Jim Shirley, the executive director of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, will retire at the end of 2022. Shirley has been the alliance’s executive director since 2009, when the group was called the Sarasota County Arts Council.


  • Construction has started on a 427,000-sq.-ft. industrial park in Palmetto. The 38-acre site will include office and industrial space, as well as parking for 354 cars and 127 trailers. The developer, Georgia- based Stonemont Financial Group, is also working on industrial projects in Polk and Pasco counties, as well as a 500,000-sq.-ft. industrial park in Fort Myers.


  • Collier County Public Schools is studying a proposal to provide affordable homes for teachers on a 35-acre, unused site owned by the school district near Manatee Elementary School. The land is set aside for a future high school, but the district doesn’t have plans to build a high school there for at least 20 years.


  • Engineered Fluids, a California company that makes cooling systems, has moved its headquarters to St. Petersburg. The company, which employs 14, plans to add another 10 or more jobs.
  • Phyllis LeFlore-Calloway is the new director of the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center, a light-industrial business incubator in Fort Myers. LeFlore-Calloway had been assistant director of the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency.
  • Vicki Wiggins is the new CEO of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce. Formerly COO, Wiggins replaced Melonie Monson, who stepped down after leading the chamber for nearly seven years.


  • BayCare Health System plans to build a hospital in the Manatee County community of Parrish by the end of 2025.
  • Lakeland Regional Health has targeted a 5.6-acre parcel in south Lakeland to build a hospital. Meanwhile, Lakeland Regional has started construction on a facility on 20 acres near I-4 and Kathleen Road. That facility will offer primary and specialty care, along with clinical space for graduate medical education residents that the organization plans to enroll in 2023.
  • Orlando Health is seeking permission from Pasco County to build a 300-bed hospital near Wiregrass Ranch. The proposed project, to be called Orlando Health Wiregrass Ranch Hospital, would include an emergency room, an observation unit and an intensive care unit.


  • Communities on both sides of Tampa Bay are considering regulations designed to protect tenants. In Hillsborough County, the county commission approved a plan that will require landlords to give tenants notice of 60 days or more of rent increases greater than 5%. The landlords would also have to give notice of 30 days or more before not renewing a lease. In Pinellas County, the county commission approved a “bill of rights” for tenants that would also require landlords to give notice before raising rents. Pinellas’ new rules would also prohibit landlords from discriminating against renters who use housing vouchers.


  • The 58-acre former DeSoto Square Mall property in Bradenton has sold for $25.7 million to Charles R. Jones, a Tennessee developer. The previous owner, Romspen U.S. Master Mortgage, purchased the property at a bankruptcy auction in 2021. The new owner has yet to announce plans for the property.
  • A 321-unit apartment complex in Tampa has sold for $95.1 million. The Bay Crossing development had been owned by Rex, a Texas-based real estate company. The buyer is Chicago-based 29th Street Capital.


  • The Zephyrhills Municipal Airport is getting $6.6 million in state funds for various projects, including a runway extension and new hangars. Meanwhile, Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is getting $10 million in federal funds to build a concourse/ground boarding facility to include five new gates and four security checkpoint lanes.