Building a Culture of Community
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
Back in the late 1950s, the wilderness that is now Port St. Lucie was founded upon General Development Corporation’s promotion for an 85x125 lot as “$10 down and $10 a month for 10 years.” Anyone could live out his dream of retiring in Florida for quite the bargain.
In 1953, Gardner Cowles of Look magazine, bought 8,500 acres of land along the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. Envisioning it as an economical place for retirees from the North, he platted the land as River Park. To construct homes, he worked with The Mackle Company, a prominent Florida home building company, to build homes in the area.
The merger of five Canadian corporations led to the rise of General Development Corporation (GDC), which then merged with Cowles and began buying up huge tracts of Florida ranch land in St. Lucie County. The company extended Prima Vista Boulevard from River Park to the river and built a bridge over the North Fork to provide access for development and homebuyers. By 1959, GDC had 250 homes set for purchase and began referring to the development as Port St. Lucie.
Across 80 square miles of swamp and pine trees, GDC paved and named streets, creating 80,000 lots for homes. As the city build-out continued, a central downtown area was not created. With the low number of residents prior to the build-out, a downtown didn’t make sense to developers. There was not enough of a local economy or industrial and commercial presence in the area that would have demanded a “brick-and-mortar” downtown.
Although a centralized downtown was not built, GDC made a point to construct shopping plazas, recreation areas, church sites and office centers. All of these amenities added to the value and intrigue of living in Port St. Lucie. Besides the highly publicized promotional pricing of lots and homes, you couldn’t beat the close proximity to local waterways — the Indian River Lagoon, Atlantic Ocean and St. Lucie River — as well as access to the great outdoors and the possibility of year-round warm weather.
Without a traditional downtown area, Port St. Lucie is developing several activity centers to live, work and play.
Over the years, Port St. Lucie has slowly but surely become a very family-friendly city. Not only that, but Port St. Lucie prides itself on being “A City for All Ages” and remains as such today.
As the city has grown over the years, its cityscape has expanded. There are now fairs, festivals and other events that the city lacked in its formative years. City officials have made it a point to create “activity hubs” and areas throughout the city that encourage residents to be out and about. Because of citywide campaigns to promote events, the interaction among residents is allowing a better sense of community to build.
“Over our city’s 120 square miles, we are trying to create ‘activity centers,’” Mayor Greg Oravec says. “There is a robust one in Saint Lucie West and Tradition. Now, we are working on further developing the ones at Riverwalk and City Center.”
Oravec has developed a sense of pride in how much Port St. Lucie has grown and continues to flourish.
“We are at that transition point to go to the next level where we are really known for being a place of work and innovation,” he says.
“Building out the area we call Southern Grove (west of Tradition) will provide more retail, entertainment and economic opportunity for all.”
Port St. Lucie can and will be better with creating and maintaining multiple gathering places with additional places to work, shop and play, rather than creating a downtown area, say Oravec, city manager Russ Blackburn, civic center director Linda McCarty and Community Redevelopment Area project manager Jennifer Davis. The four have worked hard to promote the development of activity hubs around the city.
“Investing in these types of places is helping bring light to the fact that we are one community and have a lot to offer our residents and visitors.”
— Russ Blackburn, city manager
Currently, Riverwalk, a park area adjacent to Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Westmoreland, has a 1-mile boardwalk along the river and a large waterfront restaurant in the planning and construction phases. Once completed, officials aim to bring in the crowd numbers seen at annual events in Tradition and City Center.
Most recently, the city council approved a special-use exception for an Urban Air Adventure Park to occupy a space in Eastport Plaza (across from City Center). The park will feature trampolines, a ropes course, ninja course, go-carts, virtual reality simulators and roller coasters. The park will offer a selection of food, beer and wine.
“Investing in these types of places is helping bring light to the fact that we are one community and have a lot to offer our residents and visitors,” Blackburn says. “We have great neighborhoods and are starting to see people take pride in Port St. Lucie.”
The city is also catching the eyes of large research facilities with Cleveland Clinic choosing to open a research facility here, the first time the company has moved a research facility into a city outside of its home base of Cleveland, Ohio, and Florida International University working toward acquiring the 102,887-square-foot former Torrey Pines Institute building in Tradition.
Bringing research to Port St. Lucie establishes the area as a hub for research and innovation and is a boost for economic development in Port St. Lucie’s job sector.
“Because we do not have a central ‘downtown’ where many cities house large corporations and businesses, more than 17,000 residents commute out of the city each day,” Oravec says. “These partnerships are one of the ways of working to have more people be able to work and play here.”
These alliances assist with Tradition’s further development as a major hub for Port St. Lucie, and city officials are working on promoting City Center as a main gathering point.
The “We Love Lucie” concert series, which begins in February, is designed to generate pride in the area. “City Center is a beautiful venue and so family friendly,” says McCarty. “Our goal is to market a love for our town and bring everyone together.”
The concert series will feature some big names like Styx and Little River Band. City Center holds events throughout the year, bringing in more than 10,000 attendees per event.
The idea behind all of this is to fulfill the need for a “concrete” downtown. In this forward-thinking city, these central hubs in various sections of the city seem to be working at bringing people together.
“A huge milestone was the city’s most recent ribbon cutting of Crosstown Parkway,” Blackburn says. The multimodal thoroughfare is created for biking, walking and driving, he says, and links the eastern and western parts of the community. “It is the new spine of a corridor for our community that unites us.”