LAKE PARKER MALL
East Memorial Boulevard / US 92 and North Lake Parker Avenue
Lakeland, Florida

Planning for Lakeland, Florida's first mall-type shopping center commenced in 1967. Developed by Miami-based Bob Howard & Associates, the complex was built on a 14.5 acre site. This was located .8 mile northwest of center city Lakeland, on the southern shore of Lake Parker.

LAKE PARKER MALL was implemented in two stages. The first, consisting of 1-level (105,000 square foot) Montgomery Ward, was completed in 1966. This was joined by a single-level, fully-enclosed mall and 1-level (88,500 square foot) Woolco discount mart. These opened for business in August 1971.

The 7 million dollar shopping hub encompassed 390,100 leasable square feet. Among its forty stores and services were SupeRx Drugs, Hi-Tide Fish & Chips, Gallenkamp Shoes, Jean Nicole ladies' wear and an S.H. Kress 5 & 10. An 11,900 square foot Montgomery Ward Auto Center and 18,900 square foot Winn-Dixie supermarket were western outparcels of the mall proper.

The in-mall Jerry Lewis Twin Cinema showed its first features in 1972. The venue was renamed Lakeland Mall I & II in 1975 and was shuttered in 1992.

Boston-based Continental Real Estate Partners had acquired LAKE PARKER MALL in January 1974. The complex had endured something of an identity crisis during its early years, as its name did not reflect its location within its respective city. This situation was corrected when the official name of the complex was changed to LAKELAND MALL. This became official July 17, 1974.

A small-scale renovation accompanied the name change, with mallways fitted with wall-to-wall carpeting. The exterior was given a paint job and new parking area landscaping was installed.

Following Woolco's January 1983 closing, the store space sat vacant for over 4 years. Bentonville, Arkansas' Sam's Club eventually leased the space and opened, on June 1, 1987, as the fifty-third store in the chain.

LAKELAND MALL enjoyed its enviable position, as the only mall in (or around) the city, for 17 years. This came to an end March 10, 1988, with the grand opening of the 850,000 square foot LAKELAND SQUARE {2.9 miles northwest, in Lakeland}. This mega mall originally housed eighty-eight inline stores, with three anchors (a fourth being under construction).

Within a year, the older (and substantially smaller) shopping complex was 50 percent vacant. Montgomery Ward pulled the plug on its LAKELAND MALL location in 1991. On June 19, 1993, Jean Nicole, the last inline store in operation, was shuttered. The December 1994 defection of Sam's Club, to a newly-built store north of town, signaled the bitter end.

The mall sat vacant and boarded up for over 4 years. On February 21, 1999, The First Baptist Church At The Mall held its first services in a renovated Montgomery Ward structure. Since this time, 2.3 million dollars have been spent reconfiguring the mall as a non-secular center for worship and congregation.

Sources:

The Lakeland Ledger
Comment post by "TenPoundHammer"
Polk County, Florida property tax assessor website
www.chistianitytoday.com