Dion Spires

Contributing Writer


Lakeland shoppers should prepare to strap on their cowboy boots and come out to the bar.

Lakeland Square Mall has announced the development of a new restaurant, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, a country-themed venue for food, music and a good time. The announcement follows a trend of recent additions to the mall.

Last year Lakeland Square shoppers noticed the addition of a 42,000 square-foot Sports Authority store in the previous location of its men’s Dillard’s store, along with a new movie theater just outside.

The 12-screen Cinemark Nextgen movie theater boasts the newest and most advanced technology in the Bay Area with its Cinemark XD Extreme Digital Cinema auditorium. This auditorium offers a floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall screen as well as a high quality surround sound system and both 2D and 3D offerings.

Rouse Properties, the mall’s real estate owner, hopes that the movie theater will add a new element to the mall for all customers.

“In adding Cinemark, the sixth anchor tenant at the mall, we will be providing our customers with a state of the art entertainment destination from the premier movie theater operator in the country, which will serve the surrounding community for many years to come,” Rouse Properties CEO and President Andrew Silberfein said in a press release for the theater opening.

Many mall-goers were left wondering if the addition of this theater would be giving Lakeside Village, Lakeland’s outdoor mall located on Town Center Drive, and its Cobb Theater some competition. Some shoppers also wondered if these additions were the beginning of an effort to improve the Lakeland Square shopping experience as a whole.

Those shoppers might have been onto something.

Rouse Properties recently refinanced Lakeland Square from a $50.3 million mortgage loan to a $65 million loan, just after building these additions. A press release regarding the opening of the theater last year also cited a launch of a “massive re-modeling initiative” along with the project.

Since the development of these larger projects, Lakeland Square has also welcomed new kiosks such as Häagen-Dazs ice cream, French Fry Heaven and most recently a Toll House Cookie store. The mall has also added in new seating areas and charging stations for shoppers to take a break and recharge their mobile devices.

Florida Southern College freshman and Lakeland Square employee Ulyseius Martinez said that he felt that these additions were an attempt for the mall to increase its popularity, even to those areas outside of Lakeland such as Brandon and Tampa.

Fellow FSC freshman and Lakeland Square employee Kaila Scalf agreed.

“Lakeland Square is a decently-sized mall but it is in heavy competition with, for example, the Brandon Mall which features many higher-end stores and restaurants,” Scalf said. “Lakeland Square seems to be aiming to attract an even wider variety of customers.”

Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill marks the first large-scale restaurant in the Lakeland Square Mall since the closing of Piccadilly Cafeteria about three years ago. The bar and grill is a restaurant that will combine traditional country cooking with country music, live entertainment, a guitar-shaped bar and specialties like fried bologna sandwiches and the deep-fried Twinkie.

“This is a unique destination tenant that enhances both our dining and entertainment offering, and we believe it will serve as a major attraction for the Lakeland community,” Missy Heanu, Rouse Properties’s  vice president of marketing, said.  “Toby Keith’s offers an energetic and entertaining blend of music and food that’s truly an experience and makes for a great lunch or night out.”

Martinez believes that the restaurant is a move in the right direction for Lakeland Square.

“I personally enjoy a good restaurant and I am thoroughly excited about tasting the food at this new bar and grill,” Martinez said.

Scalf agreed, saying that she is a big Toby Keith fan and thinks that it will be a big success due to the Lakeland Square population of shoppers.

I Love This Bar & Grill will begin construction in January 2015 and open that summer.