Proceeding with caution
City, businesses optimistic as the region slowly returns to a new normal world
BY GREG GARDNER
Port St. Lucie businesses that have survived the COVID-19 pandemic are looking forward to city residents getting outside after months of quarantine.
“We have seen some retail/restaurant businesses just not able to survive the lengthy shut down and the gradual reopening process,” says Terissa Aronson, president/CEO of the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce.
“We don’t have all the data yet, nor are we out of the woods,” she says. “But we know our event and tourism related businesses have struggled greatly. The effect [of the quarantine] on businesses varied as well as the responses. We had businesses that experienced very little slowdown, some who experienced increased business, many who got creative and others just weren’t able to pivot and sustain.”
“We know our residents are anxious to get out,” she says. “The people of this community are fighters and we’ll get through it together.”
When Tutto Fresco Italian Grill in PGA Village closed, the restaurant’s managers realized they would have to think outside the box. To make up for the loss of inside seating due to Center for Disease Control social distancing guidelines, they rented a tent with air conditioning and fans. A permanent tent is planned to add about 40 more seats and extend out from the existing patio dining area.
COOKING UP NEW IDEAS
The restaurant remained open for takeout and delivery during the quarantine and 90 percent of the staff has returned to work.
“While we deep-cleaned the restaurant and gave it fresh paint we spent a lot of time sitting around thinking about what we could do when we reopened,” manager Greg Cappilino says. “We had to adapt to this brave new world. We have a lot of space and our patio is our valuable asset. This is a place to come and have a good time and we will maintain social distance. People are so excited we reopened. Some snowbirds may not go home for the summer. We are expecting a busy summer when people finally get out.”
During the quarantine, Tutto Fresco prepared 2,000 meals for police, fire and medical personnel.
“We are very well invested in this and we will find a way to make it through,” Capillino says.
In May, the restaurant began hosting Thursday trivia contests and live music weekends on the patio. Restaurants are still restricted to 50 percent occupancy inside and no bar seating.
SAFETY COMES FIRST
St. Lucie Medical Center physicians are again performing elective and emergent surgeries as well as diagnostic procedures.
“A lot of thought has gone into how to make our environment safe and efficient for patients, their families, physicians and staff,” chief executive officer Jay Finnegan says. “We are taking the necessary precautions to ensure our hospital is a safe place for care. We are proud of how our colleagues have supported our patients, the community and each other with dedication, professionalism and compassion while showing an extraordinary level of commitment to exceptional care throughout this unprecedented time.”
People entering the building will be pre-screened. Everyone must wear a mask and they are available to visitors. COVID-19 patients are being treated in an isolated area with restrictions for visitors.
Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital has seen an increase in virtual care since the March safe stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“One of the immediate changes has been the use of virtual care,” says Robert L. Lord Jr., president of Cleveland Clinic Martin Health. “We have seen a tremendous surge across many service lines and it has been very popular with patients. We will continue to see growth in virtual care across the field of health care.”
Clinical trials, expedited research and treatment options are coming to Port St. Lucie in the fight against the virus.
“The Cleveland Clinic Florida region has been engaged in a number of COVID-19 related research studies,” Lord says. “Those opportunities will expand when the Cleveland Clinic Florida Research and Innovation Center opens in Tradition this summer.”
Drive-thru testing locations have been operating seven days a week at Cleveland Clinic Tradition Hospital since March.
“We are working hard to ensure the safety of everyone who comes through our doors and want the public to know hospitals are safe places to receive care,” Lord says. “We have long considered our caregivers to be heroes. They have worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of patients, visitors and fellow caregivers. We have seen a tremendous community response from individuals who recognized our caregivers’ efforts.”
NEW SELLING OPTIONS
Realtors were considered essential and many worked throughout the quarantine, conducting business via teleconferencing as well as face-to-face meetings.
“We will open again when it is safe for our staff and members and we continue to assess the situation,” says Jensen Beach Realtor Jarrod Lowe, who is president of Broward, Palm Beaches and St. Lucie Realtors.
The St. Lucie West office has been closed since March and committee and board meetings have been held by teleconference. Most continuing education classes are available online.
“As Realtors, we have to adapt to new technologies,” Lowe says, adding that he was very busy meeting clients and selling houses the past two months. “Virtual tours and meetings are becoming more popular and those are positive changes. We want to be more efficient, safer and minimize risk.”
Builders’ model home row on Savona Boulevard has reopened and many sales people are offering in-house tours and online presentations for buyers.
OUTDOOR PUBLIC SAFETY
The lifeblood of Port St. Lucie’s outdoors is the 14 meandering miles of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. City residents have an abundance of summer recreation opportunities with boat ramps, riverfront parks, hiking trails, passive parks and fitness centers. Officials are working with the different sports leagues on plans to safely reopen ball fields, basketball courts and playgrounds.
Port St. Lucie’s 42 city parks are open daily until sunset, but ball fields will not be open until games resume.
“This is still a very serious situation, but people are using the parks and things are going well,” says Brad Keen, assistant director for parks and recreation. “To keep public safety we are asking people to practice social distancing, be patient and we can still enjoy the parks. We will resume normal hours.”
All but two of the city’s summer camps are running. One was canceled due to CDC rules and the other because of closed field-trip locations.
Boys and Girls Club of St. Lucie County was able to operate its Port St. Lucie Summer Camp-A-Thon by transforming the main room of the MidFlorida Credit Union Event Center. Using pipe and drapes to meet CDC rules, the main room was converted into 23 different age-specific rooms. The art gallery is now a game room.
“Our organization was ready to serve hundreds of youths this summer, but we were in need of a safe facility,” chief executive officer Will Armstead says. “The City of Port St. Lucie and the event center staff worked diligently to come up with a plan for us to serve youths beginning May 11. Without this facility, we would not have been able to open so early and offer working parents an affordable, safe option for their children.”
Armstead praised the collaborative effort between his organization and the city.
“This embodies how a true partnership can provide recovery to a community,” he says. “The city’s innovative approach has converted this beautiful facility into a club to offer academic success, a healthy lifestyle and lessons in good citizenship to children in Port St. Lucie.”
Since it closed in March, the 100,000-square-foot building — formerly known as the Port St. Lucie Civic Center — was deep-cleaned, sanitized and the interior painted. Repairs were made and LED lighting was installed.
Freedom Fest fireworks at the Event Center east of U.S. 1 will be held in the same location, but officials are planning for what may look like a drive-in movie event. The Treasure Coast Business Summit is set for Aug. 20.
The St. Lucie Mets 2020 season has been delayed indefinitely. The New York Mets announced at the end of May they would pay their minor league players through June. No summer events are scheduled for Clover Park, which has been closed since March 23.
County workers are overseeing maintenance and completion of construction items for the stadium. Officials are looking at other opportunities to use Clover Park if baseball does not return this summer.
Club Med Sandpiper Bay has made several adjustments before reopening to the public. The all-inclusive resort’s restaurants have done away with their famous lunch and dinner buffets, replacing them with an a la cart menu delivered to tables.
St. Lucie County beaches are open after some closures during the quarantine.