ST. LUCIE COUNTY
CITY READYING PLANS FOR POSSIBLE SEAPLANE BASE
BY SUSAN BURGESS
A plan to consider an economically lucrative seaplane
base in Fort Pierce near the River Walk Center dropped out
of sight in 2018 although city commissioners were enthused
after learning about a thriving seaplane base in Tavares. But
while the public wasn’t hearing anything, the city’s engineering
department was working on it.
The city has approval from the Federal Aviation Administration
but the Florida Department of Transportation is looking
for reassurance that the planes would not obstruct helicopter
traffic to the hospital, city engineer Jack Andrews said. If the
FDOT permit comes through in two months as expected,
design work can start.
Tavares’ success has made a big impression locally.
“The Tavares model did play a role in encouraging our
commission and staff,” Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson said.
“Since Fort Pierce has a unique location on Florida's east
coast, we believe we can build on their success story,”
The Seaplane Pilots Association gave the city confidence.
“Once we connected with the Seaplane Pilots Association
and they visited Fort Pierce, they agreed our area was a
natural for seaplanes,” Hudson said. “It is especially situated
for travelers to and from the Bahamas, and other Caribbean
destinations, and destinations like the Florida Keys and east
and west coasts of South Florida.”
Tavares, which is in the center of the state, started small in
2010 with a base on Lake Dora. Seven years later the sleepy
downtown had a new hotel, an event center, restaurants —
22 new businesses in all.
In Fort Pierce, tentative plans call for a ramp for wheeled
seaplanes where the shuffleboard courts are.
“Six seaplanes at most are expected,” Andrews said. “We
may use the River Walk Center for offices.”
The city is looking for an operator for the base. The only
installation cost available was estimated in 2018 – $250,000
Pete Tesch, president of the county Economic Development
Council, thinks the seaplane base is a good fit for a
coastal city. Trips to the Bahamas are an option, as are vacation
Fort Pierce could benefit by attracting a "niche" traveler to
the Treasure Coast, Hudson said.
“Active and sports tourism makes sense for our area
because of the many things you can do outdoors, year round
once you arrive. Many business and holiday travelers now
want to have a vacation with activities that are healthy and
outdoors. We believe the seaplane traveler fits in nicely with
this kind of tourism emphasis.”
dangerously exposed to hurricanes, citing the millions of
dollars worth of damage done to the city’s marina in 2004 by
hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.
“You need to go back to the drawing board,” Smyth said.
Others were also concerned by the lack of hurricane protection
for marina docks sticking out into the lagoon. Following
the 2004 hurricanes and months of testing and research
to discover how best to break dangerous rampaging waves,
protective artificial islands were installed at the Fort Pierce
City Marina. Legueux said various protective measures will
Future cargo business also drew comments during the
Carmela Bell, who with her family owns about 67 acres at
the port, called the plan a good start toward identifying possibilities
of potential development.
“Flexibility in the plan is needed to capitalize on current
and future opportunities,” she said. “International trade is
the biggest business in the world.”
There’s room for both cargo and a megayacht facility at the
port, said Doug Lofland, vice president of strategic planning
for Marine Management and Consulting of St. Martin in the
Caribbean. “Make sure that whoever is operating it in the
future is doing it under best practices.”
“This plan is something that’s been dreamed of by a lot of
people,” Townsend said. “And now it’s here.”
A rendering of Harbour Pointe Park as a new destination park
shows a restaurant, seating area, event lawn and pavilion.