Work begins on urban Bonnet Springs Park in Lakeland

- For years, it has been known as the biggest encampment of homeless in Lakeland. The property sits next to Memorial Blvd., and covers 200 acres.

Makeshift tents peek out from the under brush and from behind trees, cooking utensils scatter the ground, and clothes hang on branches to dry. But the home away from home for the homeless soon will be no more.

After being the go-to place for transients, they are beginning to pack up and leave.

"Because they have seen the activity," said Lakeland spokesman Kevin Cook as he walked down a path to show FOX 13 the lay of the land. "They have seen the bulldozers, the trails being cut, and told a park is going to be built here."

From now on, the site will be known as the future home of Lake Bonnet Park. When it comes to fruition, it will be the biggest park in Lakeland.

On Wednesday, the visionaries behind the park announced the details of their project under a sprawling, 100-year-old grandfather oak on the property.

Although nothing is etched in stone, there is talk of an amphitheater, a mini train ride, walking trails, a dog park, swan boats and more.

"For generations to come, it will be an asset for everyone around here," said Wesley Barnett, a park co-founder and grandson of George Jenkins, who founded Publix. His family just made an unspecified donation to the park.

David Bunch, a local developer, and Bill Tinsley, the former head of Parks and Recreation for the City of Lakeland are co-founders of the park as well. They hope to raise between $50 and $60 million to develop and maintain Bonnet Springs Park.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we will raise that money and and we'll raise it timely," said Tinsley.

Bunch is buying two pieces of adjoining property that will help the bottom line, as well. One is contaminated with arsenic. He plans to clean it up and sell it commercially. On the other, the former home of Florida Tile, he plans to building housing. The plan is to donate the profits to the park.

The co-founders hope to open in the park over the next few years.

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