Master plan outlines new details for marine hub and waterfront recreation park
BY SUSAN BURGESS
The Port of Fort Pierce is springing to life, growing from a little-used cargo port to a thriving marine industry hub that includes a fully loaded waterfront recreation park rivaling any on the Treasure Coast. The transformation is expected to begin soon, ending decades of waiting for the port to turn around.
Derecktor Shipyards of Fort Pierce is moving ahead with plans to open its maintenance, refit and overhaul operation for the sleek yachts of the super-rich. And now, Harbour Pointe Park, which fronts the Fort Pierce Inlet and Taylor Creek, is about to experience a complete makeover.
Jutting out into the Indian River Lagoon, the park has been a quiet place for fishermen and those who enjoy mostly untamed nature. Consultants suggest the park be transformed into a recreational destination that could include a large restaurant with outdoor seating, sundries shop, possibly boat charter offices, dock master, an event lawn with a big pavilion, attractive landscaping with shade trees, a sandy beachfront and walking paths, and a small-boat launch and public marina at the north end.
Plans call for connecting the park to the greenway bike trail and out into the community. The idea of creating such a park was a crowd favorite in meetings with the consultants.
County Commissioner Cathy Townsend said the transformation of 20-acre Harbour Pointe Park is expected to kick the century-old port’s new status as a marine and recreational hub into high gear.
“What you’ve envisioned for a long time, you will now actually see within the next four to six years,” Townsend told community members in November during a review of the plan’s final draft.
NEW ZONING CATEGORY SET
City officials have been working since December changing the port’s patchwork zoning – a necessary step that will advance the plans. The new designation, which is also a new zoning category, will be Port Industrial District, or PID, which will allow mixed uses of land at the port.
The city commission handles zoning on the port property while the county is responsible for the master plan. The city is also working on redevelopment plans for Fisherman’s Wharf, just south of Derecktor’s new shipyard, linking the port with the River Walk Center at Veterans Memorial Park and from there to the city’s historical downtown.
Harbour Pointe will be a first-class destination park with amenities expected to draw visitors from the entire county and beyond – a significant change from the years when the port was seen solely as a cargo facility, primarily for citrus fruit. But citrus production has declined sharply. According to a 2020 CBS News report, statewide grapefruit harvest for the last 20 years fell from 50 million boxes annually to 4.5 million, based on numbers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistical Service.
The port area on the inlet is seen by consultants as an important and much-needed economic and social engine for Fort Pierce and beyond by creating marine-related jobs and a destination for residents and visitors seeking a day of waterfront fun. People might walk, bike or drive to Fisherman’s Wharf, the A.E. Backus Museum and Gallery, the Manatee Center, the Saturday Farmers’ Market and historical downtown’s shops.
COMMUNITY INPUT FAVORABLE
The park and a marine industry hub were uses favored by 94 percent of respondents who replied to surveys conducted by consultants. A new cargo and work boat wharf for small businesses was also favored.
“Now we’re at the beginning of something that probably took too long to get there but we’re finally there,” Townsend said after the November presentation by Scott Legueux of Moffatt & Nichol and Atkins, both multinational companies.
The port will continue as a maintenance, refit and overhaul facility operated by Derecktor for the next 30 years. Derecktor’s facility will serve as the anchor for all that is expected to grow around it. It’s at the end of the deep-water channel previously used by import/export ships.
The shipyard is an engine for future development of the port, according to Peter Tesch, president of the St. Lucie County Economic Development Council. The network of vendors that Derecktor can use and other marine-related businesses will provide dozens and dozens of jobs, he said, and Derecktor is expected to create 170 jobs over time.
With the new master plan recognizing that the port can fulfill the long-held dream of attracting marine businesses, port and airport director Stan Payne called it “… a beacon to the private sector,” saying that a marketing study will help draw in the businesses that fit the port.
LAGOON HEALTH A CONCERN
The plan also calls for a 120-150 slip public marina and a marine research and education facility. This is in addition to turning the 20-acre Harbour Pointe Park into a shining example of what a park can be.
Delores Hogan Johnson, president of the St. Lucie Waterfront Council and a former state representative, is enthusiastic about the proposed research and education center, she said. The health of the Indian River Lagoon is extremely important, she said, citing the lagoon’s biodiversity.
“Let’s keep in mind that we must protect the lagoon,” Johnson said.
Consultants said that over the long term, the center could end up occupying 7,500 square feet with labs, classrooms, outdoor learning space and grow tanks.
“To see that whole area come alive is going to be great because it’s never happened before,” Townsend said.
The entire port project, expected to be completed by 2040, is estimated to cost between $82 million and $130 million spread out over many years with grant funding helping defray expenses, although consultants said it is too early to come up with firm costs. Private companies doing business at the port will be responsible for building their own facilities.
The master plan draft is the first to detail what the port might look like. It was the result of months of work with community input in virtual meetings and surveys.
Legueux detailed the efforts to gather opinions from residents and business people as to what they wanted the port and port planning area to become.
Before approving the draft plan, Townsend asked the consultants to work specifically with business people after Harold “Buzz” Smyth, owner of Causeway Cove Marina, said the county is going into competition with his business by operating a public marina at the port.
He also said he is worried that the proposed docks were 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 be explored.
Future cargo business also drew comments during the November presentation.
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.”
REVISED PORT VISION
The planning result is a multifaceted vision for the port that calls for:
• Creation of the Treasure Coast’s premier center for yacht, shipbuilding, and related marine repair, overhaul, and maintenance facilities;
• Investment in county-owned Harbour Pointe Park to emerge as a public marina, boat ramp and upgraded park; and
• Advancement of a new wharf and surrounding uplands dedicated to the support of small import/export marine dependent businesses.
Implementation of the master plan will take 10 to 20 years. Success relies on favorable market conditions, incremental investment by the public and private sector, and sustained community alignment and goodwill. Achievement of the aims and projects contained in the master plan are worthwhile, and will result in an active, working waterfront that serves as another important engine driving economic and social progress for the county and region.
LINK: To download a copy of the 2020 final draft of the master plan go here: https://tinyurl.com/portmasterplan and scroll down the list to Port of Fort Pierce Final Draft. To open and read the plan you may need a PDF reader. A free one can be downloaded here: https://get.adobe.com/reader/otherversions/
Source: St. Lucie County final draft 2020 port master plan by Moffat & Nichol and Atkins
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 to $300,000.
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 packages.
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.”