Transient population could stunt 820 Mass Market's potential

- Lakeland is taking a $5 million gamble - betting that the city will be paid back in spades. 

820 Mass Market on Massachusetts Avenue, including the old Salvation Army building, has been transformed into a complex of trendy spaces geared to draw a crowd of young adults for work and play.

But here's the twist: It is also the place where many of Lakeland's homeless spend time.

"If you're going into an area that's blighted, you have to start somewhere, and this is the first [step]," said Kevin Cook, spokesman for the City of Lakeland.

As part of the multi-million dollar rehab, an old warehouse has been given new life. In the front of the building, there is an event space. In the back, artist studios. Next door, what used to be the Salvation Army is now a commercial kitchen.

Private companies have leased out the spaces and plan to sublet to tenants. The city is hoping that 820 Mass Market will convince other businesses to set down roots nearby.

But the big question is this: Will other businesses be put-off by the neighborhood and the transients who live there?

"I think it could be a detriment," said CRA Director Nicole Travis. "But I think you have a lot of creative folks here in Lakeland that are willing to test the area, and test the market."

Saturday, the new upscale 820 Mass Market will officially open with an artists' market in the morning and big party at night.

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