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Architect’s rendering of the Lake District

LAKELAND, Tenn. — With one fell swoop of its big claw, a backhoe began what Lakeland city leaders called a new era Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s tremendous. Its critical to the future of our city,” Mayor Wyatt Bunker said.

The demolition of the old outlet mall has been years in the making. The recession delayed the project but developers revived the plan thanks in part to Shelby County Commission issuing a Tax Increment Financing program, where they raise taxes to help finance the outlet’s replacement project.

“This Commission is intent on utilizing TIFs all around the county to make all kinds of economies boom and go because that’s how we fund the school system, roads and bridges,” said Commissioner Heidi Shafer, who represents Lakeland.

Developers said the project, called the Lake District, will be a fully walkable neighborhood, complete with 350 homes, more than 200 apartments, retail, restaurants and two hotels.

“The opportunity for new businesses, a place to shop locally, a place to come in and eat dinner… it’s going to be a new opportunity for Lakeland to come out and shine,” Lakeland resident Teresa Henry said.

Developers said they planned to start construction in 2019 and finish in 2021.

Once completed, the project will have a $4 million annual impact on Lakeland, officials said.

Site plan for the Lake District