Written by Priscilla Burr
Photography by Daniel Barceló & Jordan Randall
For over 40 years, the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency (LCRA) has played a vital role in helping the local community live out their dreams by revitalizing residential areas and investing in businesses.
Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency
Lakeland looks a bit different than it used to. Within the past decade, new businesses have sprouted in historic buildings. Areas once vacant are now the centers of bustling businesses and vibrant social events. Murals painted by local artists have brought downtown buildings to life with vivid colors. That’s the beauty of Lakeland – the blending of the new with the old.
For the Lakeland Community Redevelopment Agency (LCRA), restoration is a part of its vision. Founded in 1977, the LCRA helps stimulate development and address blighted conditions and disinvestment in the core of the city.
Under the guidance of the City Commission, the LCRA works with businesses, developers, and property owners to improve the quality of life for residents in three redevelopment districts – Dixieland, Downtown, and Midtown. Signature projects by the LCRA include Lincoln Square, Yard on Mass and Haus 820. LCRA has also invested in The Joinery, Union Hall, Lean Spaces, Krazy Kombucha, Midtown Lofts, and Mirrorton Apartments.
“Our overall goal is to improve the quality of life and economic viability of Lakeland,” says Alis Drumgo. As the manager for the LCRA, Drumgo gets a front-row seat at helping revitalize areas in Lakeland and watch others live out their dreams when those projects come to fruition.
“Our overall goal is to improve the quality of life and economic viability of Lakeland.”
Originally from Houston, Drumgo lived on both the east and west coasts of the country and served in the military overseas before ending up in Tampa. He has a background in public policy and regional planning. Drumgo worked in Tampa in land development before moving to Lakeland to work for the LCRA. He started as a project manager in 2017 and transitioned into his current role in 2019.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is helping people realize their dreams through opening up new businesses or providing homeownership opportunities,” says Drumgo.
Listening to the community is a core aspect of Drumgo’s role. Although every day looks a little bit different for Drumgo, his position mostly entails hearing from local community members and the City Commission on their future visions for the city of Lakeland. As a manager, he also researches best practices, looks into potential development sites and pulls together resources to make a project happen.
“My vision is what our City Commission and citizens want,” says Drumgo. “I can be that conduit to make ideas an actuality. That’s what I take pride in being able to do. It’s not so much my vision, but helping others execute their visions.”
Composed of a team of six, the LCRA works on projects that materialize from public feedback, research, and gauging areas that need redevelopment in the city.
“The LCRA has very defined boundaries. We see where the gaps exist,” says Drumgo. “These projects could come from concerns people bring forward from needing more affordable housing, sidewalk connectivity, and infrastructure improvements or wanting to start a business. When we help those individuals, we are helping the city.”
A lot of the work the CRA does is behind the scenes. Drumgo says that’s what makes them good at what they do.
“We are more of the facilitators,” explains Drumgo. “There’s a lot of problem-solving because redevelopment comes with challenges. We try to piece it all together, and it takes time to do it. We start with the planning stages and stick with a project until it’s finished. Some projects take two to three years or longer before there is tangible progress. When it comes to fruition, it feels great.”
Three of the LCRA’s current projects include the Art Infusion Program in Dixieland, The Well in Midtown, and westward expansion of development opportunities in the Downtown.
With a purpose of bringing more foot traffic to the Dixieland area, the Art Infusion Program sought out local artists to paint murals on commercial properties along South Florida Avenue and downtown from George Jenkins Boulevard to Lenox Street. The project incorporates a set of color palettes inspired by Old Dixieland.
“Art is a known contributor to revitalizing communities. Our goal is to help the Dixieland area move forward,” says Drumgo. “Dixieland has some neat history and character. It was stagnant for several years. This can potentially take Dixieland to the next level by bringing in more pedestrians to compete for space in the areas where vehicles have historically dominated.”
Due to the road diet pilot, where the city has worked with the Florida Department of Traffic to temporarily reduce vehicle travel lanes, there’s more walking availability for people to browse in the area. The Art Infusion Program has 20 murals planned with some of them already completed. In the near future, the goal is to create a walking tour with murals, where artists can tell their stories and generate more foot traffic.
In the heart of Midtown, one project the LCRA is working toward completing by the spring of 2022 is The Well. Located at the corner of East Parker Street and North Tennessee Avenue, The Well will be turned into a collaborative small business resource center. The center will be equipped with co-working spaces, a media room for content creation, and a training room for year-round programming.
The Well will be a business incubator providing membership-based services for local entrepreneurs and businesses.
“We have been working in that area for several years,” says Drumgo. “We want to continue to build out the area around the Tax Collector’s office. There are a lot of vacancies and a history of disinvestment. LCRA has been the primary investor, and the private sector is primed to follow. We continue to bring in viable businesses.”
The Well is stationed near Haus 820 (another one of the LCRA’s projects) which was a former 1920s A&P Grocery Store that was renovated for premier events in Central Florida. Drumgo describes how the LCRA saw a “budding medical corridor” next to an area where a lot of people were moving out. They looked to fill those gaps with productive businesses and destinations that people would be drawn to.
The Well will be a business incubator providing membership-based services for local entrepreneurs and businesses. It will be directed by Dr. Sallie Brisbane-Stone, the owner of the multimedia service Well-Done Events! and an educational consultant and business coach.
The third area that the LCRA has been actively working to expand and redevelop is downtown Lakeland. Nestled around Lake Mirror, The Joinery, and Mirrorton are two of the LCRA’s most recent project investments. The LCRA provided renovation funding for The Joinery, which is Lakeland’s first modern food hall. Close to the eatery are 305 new apartments and townhomes known as Mirrorton that incorporate modern and historic elements into the residential spaces.
“At the end of the day, this is a team effort, and many of my colleagues have been working on these plans for a decade or more. Overall, the community and economic development staff, we are really working to build a great city and a great place to live in,” says Drumgo. “By focusing now on the urban and downtown areas, we are creating more walkable, livable communities. People will want to live downtown or downtown adjacent. We want to create more opportunities for people to do that.”
Currently, the LCRA is looking into expanding the development downtown to the area that is west of the RP Funding Center. With the anticipated completion of Bonnet Springs Park, the team is seeking ways to continue to grow residential and entertainment opportunities in the developing area. Drumgo describes how the park will be a crown asset for the city of Lakeland.
“Our goal is to look at how we may be able to grow strategically west of the RP Funding Center and turn that into a more viable asset that generates additional tax revenues,” says Drumgo. “We want to complement what is already happening at Bonnet Springs Park by expanding west of the existing downtown core. The investment in the park as an amenity will be important to sustaining the quality of life and growth of Lakeland.”
With the LCRA’s passion for the city of Lakeland, there’s much to look forward to in the years to come. For Drumgo, the passion people have for improving their community is what keeps him in Lakeland.
“There is a high level of accountability from the top down,” says Drumgo. “Everyone does their part to maintain a high quality of life that people are accustomed to. There are growing pains. Development is not always comfortable. However, we want Lakeland to continue to have that same hometown feel to it.”