Boardwalk to advance
Riverwalk extension project to make Westmoreland Park a prime spot for a waterfront promenade, dining and more
BY SUSAN BURGESS
If you can’t be in or on the water at Westmoreland Park, what about walking over it?
“How?” you might ask.
A 1,300-foot boardwalk on pilings over the water will be finished by September, making it easy to walk the length of the park without setting foot on land.
It’s all about giving the public more access to the scenic North Fork of the St. Lucie River, Port St. Lucie officials say. The city is working toward its goal of enhancing its cultural, natural and recreational activities, says city Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo. For the most part, the river is hidden from view. There are very few places where the public can get a good look and fewer where they can actually get to the shore.
Westmoreland Park, which will be a destination park when finished, is one place where people will be able to easily access the shoreline — for walking on the boardwalk, eventually tying up to floating docks and launching kayaks, for fishing, taking pictures and for sitting on a bench enjoying the peace and the view. Light poles on the boardwalk will allow for night use.
The new boardwalk, also called the Riverwalk Extension, will begin on the north side of the banyan tree in the park, close to the spot where a restaurant will be built. It will end by the bridge that takes Port St. Lucie Boulevard over the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. A ramp at that end will make a right-angle turn toward the shore and connect to the parking lot at Bridge Plaza.
After the new boardwalk is finished, a 300-foot section will be built under the bridge and connect to an existing 2,400-foot boardwalk, known as the Riverwalk, that goes to Veteran’s Memorial Park at Rivergate.
The boardwalk will be 10 feet wide. Access ramps will be 6 feet wide, assistant parks and recreation director Brad Keen said.
Pedestrians and cyclists will reap an important benefit from connecting the two boardwalks, Keen says. Instead of crossing the busy Port St. Lucie Boulevard intersection, people and cyclists will be able to go under the bridge. There will be access to the boardwalk from Tom Hooper Park behind Walgreens and from Bridge Plaza on the other side.
Eventually, the boardwalk will be extended several hundred feet further south from the banyan tree to connect with an existing conservation area at the southern end of Westmoreland Park. Trails through the conservation area will be created.
Funding for the $1.9 million project comes from the Florida Inland Navigation District and from the city’s own capital improvement funds.
Other grants are still in the works, Keen told the council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency in November. Brothers Construction, in Stuart, was the lowest bidder and was awarded the construction contract in June.
The boardwalk’s access ramp just north of the park’s waterfront banyan tree is a prime spot for a restaurant, city council members have said, drawing that into their master plan for Westmoreland Park.
After losing a potential restaurant for the site last year due to financial issues, Manatee Island Bar and Grill with restaurants in Fort Pierce and Port Salerno stepped up last summer and offered to launch a Manatee Island restaurant in the park.
The intended two-story restaurant’s owners, who want to include an outdoor tiki bar, are still negotiating with the city. They hope to have a 30-year lease with options for two 10-year extensions signed by this month and to begin construction in October.
Restaurant owners Paul and Elida Gonnella and Richele and Michael Politano are asking for the first three years rent-free due to construction costs. After that, they hope to pay 4 percent of the gross revenue above $1 million for years four and five of the lease. The percentages ramp up until the 10-year point, after which they expect to pay 6 percent of the total gross revenues.
“We are very aware of the timeline and that Manatee Island wants to open for the 2020-21 season, and we are going to work very hard to make that happen,” CRA project manager Jennifer Davis told the Community Redevelopment Agency board (which is the city council sitting as the CRA board) in November.
“It’s heartening to see a high quality local concept that’s been tested and has an experienced partnership team,” said Mayor Gregory Oravec following an update on the restaurant’s progress toward a lease. Council members were assured that the restaurant would not affect the large banyan tree in front of it and that River Nights, a monthly campfire and music event at the park, would be able to continue. Paul Gonnella said he hopes to add more events at the park.
Westmoreland Park, in the process of development now, will contain a playground and a historical village consisting of two buildings from the former Peacock Ranch. The park’s entrance road on Westmoreland Boulevard also provides entrance to the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens.