Massive privately funded park underway in Lakeland

By 2020, an abandoned railyard on the edge of downtown Lakeland will be transformed into a 160-acre urban green oasis by a group of local philanthropists.

Local philanthropists are developing a new 160+ acre, privately-funded urban park between West Memorial Boulevard and George Jenkins Boulevard on the east side of Lake Bonnet for the residents and visitors of Lakeland. The planned project – called Bonnet Springs Park – will reside on the former CSX railyards and adjoining historic parcels that once occupied this tract.

This park venture is a 501(c)(3) corporation – d/b/a Windsong Park, Inc. – is comprised of local visionaries including the Barnett Family – Barney, Carol & sons Wesley and Nicholas – long-time Lakeland commercial real estate broker David Bunch, and recently retired Lakeland Parks and Recreation Director Bill Tinsley.

The team has been busy assembling the total approximate 200-acre parcels, which includes the former CSX railyards, the former Florida Tile site, and a dozen other adjacent properties. The current plan is to restore the two industrial land areas and enable them to return to a productive use. The Florida Tile site – which is not planned as part of the park – will be cleaned up, revitalized and reintroduced to the market place as a high density, quality mixed-use development comparable with the proposed park to support Lakeland’s downtown needs. Proceeds from the sale of this development will be put back into the Bonnet Springs Park project.

“Great cities have great parks,” said Bunch. “Lakeland is fortunate to already have a tremendous park system, but in just 50 years, we will experience a population of one million. When we sat down with Carol & Barney Barnett and shared our vision for the prime 160-acre vacant site, they immediately determined that this was the time and place to ensure our city could have a great park within walking distance of downtown.”

“Lakeland needs an incredible green space to improve its residents’ lives by bringing them closer to nature, providing an educational experience, and offering multiple avenues for family enjoyment and entertainment,” said Barney Barnett. “We have a remarkable park system around the city, but this new endeavor will be like nothing our residents and visitors have ever seen here, both in scale and possibility. Through these property acquisitions, the group intends to initiate this project, and with the community’s support, to develop this area into a regional park for current and future generations.”

“The land has historically been earmarked and used for industrial purposes, and this is our opportunity to reclaim it, reverse the environmental impact, and transform it into one of the great suburban landscapes in the country,” said Bunch. “This is a legacy project for our region and one that will provide economic, environmental and community benefits for many years to come. This endeavor will take our city to the next level in a big way.”

Proposed plans for Bonnet Springs Park include nature trails, an amphitheater, multiple playground areas, historically-themed areas, miniature trains, botanical gardens, bike paths, public art displays and much more. The park is slated to open by 2020.

“This undertaking is one that our family is particularly passionate about,” said Nicholas Barnett. “Our intention in this project is to help improve the quality of life for the community, while also improving the economic well-being of the city. We hope that in collaborating with the community, this new park will benefit Lakeland for many generations to come.”

The leaders behind the project aim to make the park financially self-sufficient for management and maintenance.

“Developing a park as a non-profit venture sets a new paradigm for design, development and management of a public park for our community,” said Tinsley. “One of the main reasons for utilizing private funding is to ensure we can effectively and swiftly bring this urban park vision to life without putting stress on the City of Lakeland’s resources, all the while exponentially improving the quality of life for our community.”

“The park system in this country serves as the gateway to healthier, happier, more prosperous lives,” said Wesley Barnett. “Bonnet Springs Park will not only improve our community and surrounding areas, but it will also become the model for other communities to follow in the future.”

For more information on the Bonnet Springs Park project, contact Bill Tinsley at email:; phone: 863.860.2176 or David Bunch at email:; phone: 863-682-6147