Pressure Builds to Tear Down Abandoned Historic Hotels

Article By Kevin Bouffard

SEBRING | In its heyday, Harder Hall hotel in Sebring was known by the matriarchal nickname “the pink lady.”

The 86-year-old Highlands County landmark still appears matriarchal from the outside, but it is slowly deteriorating on the inside from nearly three decades of disuse. A more common nickname today is “pink elephant,” a play on ”white elephant,” a possession difficult to dispose.

Whatever the color, many communities across Florida have faced the same issue of preserving historic downtown hotels or tearing them down. In Polk County, that includes Lakeland’s Terrace Hotel and the former Regency Hotel, now Lake Mirror Tower; Grand Hotel in Lake Wales; and Polk Hotel in Haines City.

The Lakeland and Haines City hotels got new life after many calls for their demolition. The Sebring and Lake Wales hotels have avoided the wrecking ball so far, but their futures remain murky as each requires millions of dollars in renovations that won’t happen until the buildings find a new purpose compatible with their current local economies.

“There’s a growing market in Lakeland, and that’s what made it happen,” said Jim Studiale, the city’s director of community development, referring to the successful restoration of The Terrace as a hotel and the transformation of the Regency to upscale apartments. “Sebring and Lake Wales don’t have that advantage.”

The Polk and Highlands hotels share a common history with many other Florida hotels, such as the Don CeSar, another pink palace in St. Petersburg Beach, said Terry Hunter, 67, a partner in Pickett Hunter Associates Architecture of Lakeland and a student of the state’s architecture history.

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