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Tribal members prepare to move into first Lakeland Reservation homes

When fully completed, phase one of the new Lakeland Reservation will have 47 homes; 17 had been completed by the end of October. (Photo Rick Morales/Jacob Cos.)

Building a new housing development takes time – something that hasn’t been lost on Seminoles in the Tampa area. They’ve been long anticipating the completion of homes on the new Lakeland Reservation site.
The wait is almost over for some.

Seventeen new homes have been completed as part of phase one of the community. Phase one will see 47 new homes in total.

When all is said and done of four phases of homebuilding, there will be 147 single-family homes, each on 1-acre lots. Some of the homes are for purchase and others will be set aside as rentals.

The Lakeland Reservation – located about 37 miles east of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa – will serve as the new reservation for the Tampa tribal community. Some tribal members lived on the Tampa Reservation until the Hard Rock opened in 2004.

Construction of the security gatehouse at the Lakeland Reservation. (Photo Rick Morales/Jacob Cos.)

The Lakeland property is massive – approximately 900 acres within unincorporated Polk County. The acreage was purchased in 2007 and put into trust in 2016. It has a country feel with many water features, trees and other vegetation.

Amenities are being built as well, including construction of a gatehouse, which provides security and controlled access to the development similar to Seminole communities in Fort Pierce and Hollywood.

“It will be a gated community that preserves most of the land on the trust parcel untouched,” Fabian Lefler, Tribal Community Development director of planning and development, said. “We only developed 180 acres out of 900. All the wetlands, all of the natural features and essence of the property is still in place. Even though this is a housing development, we’ve maintained the beauty of the land.”

The Lakeland reservation is on a vast 900 acres with plenty of trees, vegetation and natural water features. (Rick Morales/Jacob Cos.)

Lefler said he’s hopeful that tribal members could move into the phase one homes by January 2021. He said phase two (26 homes) would begin by the end of the year and would take about a year to complete, followed by phase three (26 homes) and phase four (48 homes).

A community center is expected to be completed in the next two years, Lefler said. There will eventually be new government buildings, too. In addition, the Seminole Police Department and Seminole Fire Rescue have forged arrangements with Polk County officials.

Lefler said the pandemic hasn’t hindered the construction timeline.

“We kept working. The pandemic was tough going, but didn’t slow us down,” he said.

The effort required dozens of meetings and years of planning and strategy. The TCD office and its executive director Derek Koger, as well as senior director of operations Derrick Smith, oversaw much of the work between the tribe and city and county officials.

An official groundbreaking took place Jan. 23, 2019, when Tribal Council joined tribal members and employees, as well as dignitaries from the city of Lakeland and Polk County to mark the occasion.

Herbert Jim, the Tampa culture language director, and Tampa Reservation administrator Richard Henry brought tribal members to the land in Lakeland for years to show them the potential it held.

Jim and Henry held community events on the site. They developed a cooking area, fire pit, and organized cultural gatherings like Indian Day – including times of song and dance.

They wanted to make it a welcoming place where Native language was spoken and the culture was honored.

The Tampa community now numbers about 250. About 100 were moved to make way for the casino. Those originally displaced tribal members are granted first in line status to apply for the new homes.

The gatehouse will be located at 9610 Bryant Road. The main Lakeland property address is 9523 Moore Road.

“We kept working. The pandemic was tough going, but didn’t slow us down,” he said.

The effort required dozens of meetings and years of planning and strategy. The TCD office and its executive director Derek Koger, as well as senior director of operations Derrick Smith, oversaw much of the work between the tribe and city and county officials.

An official groundbreaking took place Jan. 23, 2019, when Tribal Council joined tribal members and employees, as well as dignitaries from the city of Lakeland and Polk County to mark the occasion.

Herbert Jim, the Tampa culture language director, and Tampa Reservation administrator Richard Henry brought tribal members to the land in Lakeland for years to show them the potential it held.

Jim and Henry held community events on the site. They developed a cooking area, fire pit, and organized cultural gatherings like Indian Day – including times of song and dance.

They wanted to make it a welcoming place where Native language was spoken and the culture was honored.

The Tampa community now numbers about 250. About 100 were moved to make way for the casino. Those originally displaced tribal members are granted first in line status to apply for the new homes.

The gatehouse will be located at 9610 Bryant Road. The main Lakeland property address is 9523 Moore Road.

The four phases of home construction on the Lakeland Reservation. (Courtesy Rick Morales/Jacob Cos.)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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