LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — The people who live, work and spend time in Lakeland are weighing in on the future of its historic centerpiece.
“It’s the center of our historic district so that’s where our city began. It’s the charm of our city,” said Julie Townsend, executive director of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority.
Possible proposals shared by the city of Lakeland show a park full of color, textures, public art displays and recreational opportunities, including giant chess sets, bocce, pod swings and cornhole.
The city held two forums this week to allow for feedback from the public.
People can also provide input online through the end of January by visiting this website.
“I want people to say, ‘I want to go to Munn Park,’ not just happen to land in Munn Park after dinner as an afterthought,” said Townsend.
Townsend said the relocation of Explorations V Children’s Museum to Bonnet Springs Park has impacted families heading downtown.
“We are concerned that – what is the attraction for families to come downtown during the weekday without Explorations?” said Townsend.
Another concern for some people is the presence of people experiencing homelessness in the park.
“Not that we’re looking to oust anyone, but to make people feel more comfortable, if we’ve got more activity in the park, perhaps the transient population will go somewhere else,” said Kevin Cook, city of Lakeland communications director.
Cook said, once the budget discussions begin for the park, its plans for where the homeless people will go will be a factor.
“There’s no budget for what we’re doing in the parks, let me just say that right now. It’s totally exploratory. As we move forward, we’ll have to address that issue, and whether that’s we go meet with Talbot House or some of the other organizations,” said Cook.
A spokesperson for Talbot House told News Channel 8 she would be attending the final in-person forum on Thursday evening, hoping to ensure that the park will be welcoming to all members of the public, including people who are homeless.
“Treat all of us the same. Don’t treat me different because I don’t make $50,000 a year,” said John Westley Watts Jr.
Watts said he has spent parts of his life homeless and people who gather in Munn Park are his friends.
“Can we do something to help them? Yes we can. The city can. The government can,” said Watts.