In what is viewed as a considerable boost to western downtown, the Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce plans to build a business resource center near the RP Funding Center that would serve as its new headquarters and house up to a dozen other business-serving organizations.

The plan for the Chamber to buy city property and build a 15,000-square-foot building was approved this morning by the City Commission's Real Estate and Transportation Committee. It will be up for approval by the entire City Commission on Monday.

The property is in the block of West Lemon Street, south of West Main Street, east of South Ohio Avenue and west of Dakota Avenue. It's directly north of the Hyatt Place Lakeland Center.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The above map and some of the text of this article were updated Saturday morning. The initial version published Friday reflected a description of the general area, not the specific property.

Other than the RP Funding Center and its two adjacent hotels, most of the surrounding property is vacant. But it's an area where significant growth is envisioned:

The agreement calls for the Chamber of Commerce to pay $270,00 for the property and the city to provide development incentives up to $645,000. That includes demolishing substandard structures on the property and utilities work.

The planned center will provide training, business education and business development opportunities for people and companies. “It will be people centered,” Mayor Bill Mutz said. “It will offer the training to build a skilled workforce.”

Mutz said the skills learned in the center will make employees more valuable to their employers or prepare them to work somewhere else.

A concept rendering for the Business Resource Center prepared by Straughn Trout Architects

Chamber President and CEO Cory Skeates said the organization would have no comment until Monday and would release more detailed plans then.

According to the City Attorney's Office, nobody other than the Chamber proposed buying the property.

The Chamber will have a year to decide whether to go forward and could then choose whether to get one or two 90-day extensions.

If the Chamber moves, it will leave its longtime location at 35 Lake Morton Drive. The Chamber leases the building from the city for $1 per month. But the chamber outgrew the old building long ago.

Current Chamber of Commerce building

What would happen to the city building with such a beautiful view overlooking Lake Morton?

“Undecided,” said City Manager Shawn Sherrouse. He said government regulations could interfere with future plans for its use.

Sherrouse said the new business facility is positive growth that could attract like company in the area north of RP Funding Center. He said the city plans to send some of its workers to the Chamber facility for additional training.

During a city meeting this morning, Commissioner Phillip Walker wanted to know whether the Chamber would continue to provide educational and outreach programs to people. Nichole Travis, the city's director of economic and community development, replied that all of the programs will continue.

A banquet room is planned for the center.

Jazbablog Editor Barry Friedman contributed to this report.

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