an outdoor oasis with a dynamic city focus
With exciting city projects on the horizon, Auburndale’s view is sunny
Auburndale, Florida is a gem that is situated just a short hour’s drive from some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches. With a stunning backdrop and retail to appeal to the most discerning, If you love the outdoors and dynamic amenities, you should enjoy living in Auburndale, Florida. The city has focused its time and effort on upgrading its walkability with plenty of trails and related new features. It is also known as a sporting destination with the Lake Myrtle Sports Park, and many newer indoor and outdoor sporting facilities located around the city.
The largest current development in the city is known as the Lakes District, which is the subject of a significant master plan. The Lakes District Master Plan planning process engaged property owners, residents, and city leadership to create a Land Use Plan for the area of Auburndale that is surrounded by lakes and contains many citrus groves. The Lakes District was designed with a walk/play model featuring outdoor warmth but including bike paths, district-specific trails, water views, and more.
The city and private developers are looking to add town centers within the district that mirror the design of a traditionally built neighborhood. It was formed in cooperation with three landowners and with significant input from city residents. The district is roughly bounded by six lakes; Juliana and Mattie to the north, Arietta and Van in the center, and Ariana and Mariana to the south. Work on this district really started nearly 15 years ago when Auburndale and Polk County coordinated a joint planning effort.
But there’s much more to Auburndale than just the outdoors and new housing. It has a growing downtown community with new restaurants and retailers. Auburndale recently annexed 860 acres of property in anticipation of the need for more land that would need to be developed to meet commercial and residential demand. That land is adjacent to busy highways I-4 (Polk Parkway), the main thoroughfare through the city. It is just one example of ongoing development being in high demand.
In recent years there has been a documented interest in expanding the city’s economic development fingerprint. Much of the interest has come from industrial businesses that have invested in their properties within Auburndale city limits.
The high number of large industrial employers include Coca-Cola, which houses its largest beverage manufacturing facility in the world. Another large employer is Medline, a healthcare manufacturer, distributor, and solutions provider, which values its Auburndale location because of its proximity to large cities like Tampa and Sarasota. Logistics provider Saddle Creek houses a large third-party logistics center as well. Those three companies alone employ several hundred employees in the community.
Polk County and the cities of Lakeland and Auburndale signed a memorandum of understanding back in 2019 to work together with the Central Florida Development Council to develop a vision for the Central Florida Innovation District. Under the MOU, the cities and county collaborate with landowners and stakeholders to diversify its economy, building upon the cutting-edge technology being developed and tested at Florida Polytechnic University and SunTrax, the Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s new 475-acre testing facility along the Polk Parkway.
We have great working relationships with businesses because we try to make connections and bring leads and opportunity partnerships to them,” says Julie Womble, Director of Community Development for Auburndale.
Housing development is growing beyond the Lakes District. The Lakes District could bring in 18,000 residential units based on currently developable land including multi-family housing that is in the pipeline, according to Auburndale Assistant City Manager Amy Palmer.
The Lake Myrtle Sports Park is a multi-purpose sports complex that consists of nine collegiate-size baseball fields, sodded with Bermuda grass on all playing surfaces and 11 lighted soccer fields. It is home to a version of quidditch, the fictional game popularized in the Harry Potter books, and hosts various water sports activities. A large Margaritaville RV Park sits nearby.
Events hosted at Lake Myrtle vary from the National Dog Agility Championships to regional rugby championships as well as lacrosse, flag football, and the Russ Matt Central Florida Baseball Invitational, the largest collegiate baseball tournament in the nation.
Lake Myrtle Sports Park is just one example of the emphasis on activities and drawing in tourists to the area, Womble says, adding, “there are events hosted there every weekend. We expect it to keep growing and remain a great source of (outside) revenue to the community.”
Another example of outdoor living is the investments made in the Auburndale TECO Trail which connects Lake Myrtle and the Sports Park area in Auburndale with Polk City, where it meets up with the General James A. Van Fleet Trail. The Auburndale TECO Trail is flat and invites walkers, joggers, cyclists, and inline skaters. It includes an observation area on the south end to watch wildlife, with the potential for spotting a rare bald eagle.
“We’re always aiming for more walkability and the TECO Trail is just one example of that,” Palmer says.
Auburndale’s Lake Ariana Park (known by locals as Mac’s Beach) is in the process of being redesigned and eventually rebuilt into a new 20,000-square-foot facility. It is expected to include a new amphitheater, boat ramp, pavilions, playground, open lawn overlook, great lawn, rain garden, and a larger parking lot. Some beach access will remain.
On the hospitality side, the city is excited about the recent opening of the Crave & Copper Microbrewery, by the owners of the long-established Florida Brewery. Those owners used community redevelopment funds to support their investments. Palmer says the opening of this new sit-down restaurant is an important addition to the downtown community, with the hope that it will lead to additional eateries in Auburndale that provide more diverse food options. This in turn could allow downtown Auburndale to become more of a foodie destination.
Auburndale participates in water co-op with other municipalities and Polk County given the fact that drinking water is in short supply. Together, these municipalities must follow a Water Star Ordinance that requires homes to have water-efficient indoor fixtures and appliances and drought-tolerant plants. The ordinance limits the amount of high-volume irrigation such as spray and rotor heads in the landscape.
Polk County itself is an important partner, regularly working with Auburndale leadership on ensuring all households in the community have access to the basic services they need, from utilities to transportation. The State of Florida is an important partner on the transportation side as well. Highway 559 was changed to a local traffic route and a transportation plan is underway to maintain safe traffic flow. Berkley Road was reclassified as the truck route to remove excessive truck traffic off 559 and downtown.
All bordering municipalities like Polk City and Lake Alfred regularly meet and converse with Palmer, Womble, and other city leaders. The aforementioned and all employers in town are invaluable partners because of their financial commitments and investments in long-term success. “It’s a community of collaboration with (business) leaders, entrepreneurs, (public) departments, and our residents,” Palmer says.
Transportation remains a major initiative for Palmer and Womble while investments continue in the Innovation District. One of the primary employers in the Innovation District is the SunTrax facility, which is a testing center for EVs and autonomous vehicles. SunTrax is a large-scale, cutting-edge facility being developed by the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, dedicated to the research, development, and testing of emerging transportation technologies in safe and controlled environments.
Palmer adds that open spaces and additions to make the city even more walkable will always be a primary goal because of resident demand. The city is investing in a large software package that will make it easier to track and manage city departments, giving residents a higher level of customer service. She also wants to continue the tradition of training city leaders in leadership programs.
“And we’re moving our customer service facility downtown to an old bank building,” Palmer said. “We’re proud of what we are accomplishing and we want to be right in the middle of downtown where so much of the action will be.”
AT A GLANCE
What: a vibrant and dynamic town with modern amenities and impressive growth potential
Where: Polk County, Florida