The revitalization of the Lakeland Gateway, the area referred to off the north side of I-40 and Canada Road, has been a top priority for the Lakland Board of Commissioners (BOC), led by Mayor Josh Roman. A crucial aspect of this wide-ranging initiative was the acquisition of the Econo Lodge Motel by the city which was made possible through a recent property tax hike. The city took possession of the Econo Lodge on September 7 of this year, but it was discovered to have asbestos which called for mitigation work before the full demolition of the building. The mitigation work does require permitting from Shelby County, but demolition is expected to continue soon.
Once demolition work is complete, the focus of the project shifts to a planned Lakeland Recreation Center, which will be operated by the YMCA of the Midsouth. According to officials, the city is currently in the process of drafting the operating agreement with the YMCA for the recreational center. The Lakeland Parks and Recreation Board recently toured a local YMCA looking at what should be incorporated into the Lakeland YMCA. Michael Walker, City Manager for Lakeland, told Lakeland Currents the recent YMCA tour was a success. “The Parks Board members who took the tour were very pleased with the facility they saw in Whitehaven and are now even more excited to see the project come to be in Lakeland,” he said. The construction budget for the Lakeland Recreation Center is expected to be $20 million dollars, some of which is funded by the YMCA. However, Mayor Josh Roman told Lakeland Currents $20 million doesn’t go as far as he would like in the current economy, but the center is still expected to be a nice addition to Lakeland. “It will be more than we have now, and it will be a great start!”
The transformation from the Econo Lodge to a Lakeland Recreation Center is a critical part of the overall Lakeland Gateway project according to Mr. Roman saying, “This Lakeland Recreation Center represents a big commitment from our city to increase amenities.” However, the Econo Lodge property transformation is only a part of the overall Lakeland Gateway plan. Ashmont, which is the planned mixed used development at Canada Road and Davies Plantation Road, is also currently in the land clearing process and working with potential retailers already. More about that development can be read here. The City is also in the negotiation process to buy the Relax Inn, which is located on Canada Road, with the increased property tax revenue and that deal is expected to close sometime in the first quarter of 2024. The City will then be able to make plans for that important property which can include redevelopment, public use or a variety of other possibilities which should become clearer in 2024.
The other beneficiaries of the Gateway project include current businesses located along Huff n Puff Road. That road runs behind the Econo Lodge and has a variety of businesses already. Those businesses should experience additional traffic since that area will see considerable activity when the Lakeland Recreation Center opens. Officials also hope the Gateway project will entice other businesses to consider moving to the Gateway area to further complete the revitalization project. While locals still have some time to see what other developments come to fruition in the Gateway District, residents can look forward to a changing landscape and a new recreation center to soon enjoy. “My goal is to be floating in that Lakeland Recreation Center lazy river by summer of 2025,” Mayor Roman said.