We are super-excited about handling publicity for a new downtown Lakeland attraction. Read all about it here:
If you happen to hear wild animal noises coming from downtown Lakeland, it’s not a new trend in the club scene. As unbelievable as it seems, you may soon hear the sounds of abandoned Florida primates in their new home in Traders Alley.
John Saki is a 2004 graduate of Florida Southern College and the executive director of the Downtown Lakeland Orangutan Preserve.
“A downtown wildlife sanctuary will make us innovators in the field of animal rescue,” said Saki. “Our vision has always been to leverage the creative energy and traffic of a vibrant downtown community to connect people with abandoned primates, specifically orangutans.”
According to Saki, dozens of orangutans are abandoned by their owners every year across the United States, with huge populations migrating to Florida due to an equatorial parallel to their natural habitats on other continents.
“It’s a statistic nobody knows about,” said Saki, “but there could be orangutans living in the woods near your house and you’d never even see them because of their reclusive tendencies. And because they were raised by well-intentioned humans who released them without any learned survival skills, they rarely thrive in the wild.”
But why downtown Lakeland? According to Saki, it’s the attention that will change the culture. “Nobody’s ever put a wildlife preserve in the center of a downtown,” said Saki. “Will it raise some eyebrows? Yes. Will it grab national headlines? Yes. And ultimately, when Lakeland wraps its arms around this project, it will help grow and sustain downtown.”
But what if people don’t want an orangutan preserve in downtown Lakeland? Tough bananas, for now. When asked how he managed to attain permitting for such an organization in a residential/commercial mixed use space, Saki admitted that it wasn’t easy.
“We had some anonymous backers who believed in the vision and really wanted to see this happen,” said Saki. “They were well-funded and insistent. A lobbying group called Rescued Orangutans For Lakeland was formed, which took its case directly to Tallahassee. Our opposition eventually realized that it would be foolish to fight against cute little orangutan babies. Now, six years later, all of the paperwork is in order and we’re nearly ready to open to the public.”
Lakelanders have expressed concerns mixed with excitement.
Further down Kentucky Avenue is Two Hens and a Hound gift shop and art gallery, where Ellen Simms is co-owner. Her main concern is not for the facility itself or how it might change the face of downtown, but the lack of public disclosure during the planning stages. “Nobody knew anything about this until very recently,” said Simms. “It’s like someone said ‘abracadabra, here’s an orangutan preserve.'”
Saki responded to this concern apologetically. “We regret the absence of discourse with Lakeland citizens and city officials,” he said. “But several downtowns in Florida were competing for this opportunity and we decided to wait to go public until the deal was done. This project is going to put downtown Lakeland on the map.”
At our publication deadline, no one from city hall was available for comment, but we can imagine those comments with be forthcoming as the story unfolds.
Mitch Harvey, owner of Mitchell’s Coffee House, hopes for the best. “It doesn’t sound like there’s much we can do to fight it at this point,” said Harvey. “At Mitchell’s, we’ve decided to see the silver lining and jump on the bandwagon with an Orange-Utan Mocha Latte. Did you see what we did there? Orange-Utan. One dollar from the sale of each drink will be donated to the preserve.”
Harvey did mention, however, that parking near his restaurant will become even more of an issue.
So how soon will orangutans be in downtown Lakeland, and how will the public be able interact with them? According to Saki, it’s already happening. “We had a soft opening last week,” he said. “And invited key community members to experience the joy of feeding the baby orangutan known as ‘Billie’ or playing checkers with venerable old grandfather ‘Gumpus.’ For many of them, it was a life-changing event. And that’s what we’re all about. Improving the lives of orangutans and people in downtown Lakeland.”
Media tours are offered throughout the day on Tuesday. A press conference with John Saki is scheduled for 10 am. Please contact our office to be added to the media list. B-roll footage also is available to interested outlets.
P.S. April Fool’s!