Hold on to your sun visors. Market watchers expect the Treasure Coast this year to see even more new single-family home permits than last year's impressive 10,130.
Attribute that to crowded south Florida. Homeowners from there are swapping west-east commutes for north-south rides and homes $100,000 cheaper. "I've sometimes joked that Palm Beach County's affordable housing program is called St. Lucie," says analyst Brad Hunter.
Developer Core Communities gets the joke. Finishing its hot-selling 4,600-home St. Lucie West, it has begun development on 16,000-home Tradition. Core is developing four miles of I-95 frontage for 10 million square feet of commercial space for companies that want to tap those commuters for labor. "The real issue is not the hot residential market; it's job creation," says Core President Pete Hegener.
To the north, big builders are eyeing Indian River County. Only development-adverse Martin saw a drop in permits in '03. Meanwhile, Treasure Coast counties look for spinoff benefits from Scripps' move into Palm Beach County.
VERO BEACH & Indian River County
Key Trend: With 18,000 residents, Vero Beach has the small-town life, wealth, an oak tree beachfront and a downtown. It also has fears. To the south lies red-hot St. Lucie County, where booming middle-class Port St. Lucie alone now holds nearly as many people as all of Indian River County. Growth "is coming up from the south. We don't want it to roll over us," says Vero Beach Mayor Sandra Bowden. To channel the tide, Vero has embarked on the vision thing, hiring a Midwest consulting firm to help residents chart a future. Bowden already knows what she's looking for. "If I came back in 50 years, I would (want to) recognize the quality of life. You can't come in and destroy what we have here. You come in and blend in."
Businesses to Watch: Indian River County's largest employer, 800-worker New Piper Aircraft, has a new ownership structure and 20th anniversary models of its Malibu Mirage and Malibu Meridian. But revenue and airplanes sold both fell 20% last year. Revenue this year likely will be flat. Private aircraft makers generally lag the rest of the economy coming out of a recession. ... Pulte's DiVosta Homes wants approval to build 1,740 homes on nearly 700 acres in central Indian River County, its first project there. ... Vero-based Broadband National, a company that provides a website (broadbandnational.com) where consumers can compare and purchase broadband and telecom services, plans to triple under founder Vinny Olmstead from its present 20 employees and add Orlando and Seattle offices.
People to Watch: Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the Miami entertainment couple who own a Vero area home, are purchasing the 32-year-old Palm Court Resort Hotel on the beachfront. ... Donald Proctor, chairman of general contractor Proctor Construction, has a busy '04 on tap with two new subdivisions, a Vero theater expansion, a new ER for Indian River Memorial and a mixed-use project on 57 acres adjoining the Dodgers spring training stadium.
PORT ST. LUCIE & St. Lucie County
Key Trend: On the Treasure Coast, 39,000-population Fort Pierce is the city left behind. Its population has grown by only 3,000 since 1990. Times are changing. Largely built-out, it's fought the county to annex land and expand the territory of its city utility. It wants to grow to 50 square miles from 20, is revitalizing downtown, has plans for a hotel-condo development by the marina and expects improvements at the port. "Developers have discovered a lot of opportunity," says City Manager Dennis W. Beach.
People to Watch: State Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, has positioned himself as the Treasure Coast super-mayor, convening a regionwide task force to map strategies for growth, education and economic development. ... Developer Mason Simpson sold out his 864-unit Harbour Isle condo development in a day. ... Pete Hegener, president of mega-developer Core Communities. ... Mark Robitaille, chief operating officer of Martin Memorial and the new chair of the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County. ... Energetic attorney and Fort Pierce City Commissioner Edward Becht. ... Indian River Community College President and economic development booster Ed Massey, whose campuses run from Vero Beach to Stuart, is planning a biotech curriculum and a tech center where students will learn IT, digital media, photonics and robotics.
Businesses to Watch: Medical products company Liberty Healthcare Group, PolyMedica's main subsidiary and St. Lucie County's largest employer with 2,000 workers, plans to step up hiring under new President Stephen Farrell. ... Harbor Federal, 35 branches and $2.4 billion in assets, plans to add four branches in Indian River, Brevard and Lake counties this year. ... Celebration-based Ginn Co. is building an 886-home, 1,400-acre luxury home project, Tesoro, in Port St. Lucie, and Tesoro Preserve, a 400-home community on the north fork of the St. Lucie River.
STUART & Martin County
Key Trend: Indiantown has neither coast nor riches going for it, but it stands out in Martin County for welcoming growth. The western Martin community, relatively poor, has the bulk of the county's industrial base and wants to fill the remaining half of its 5,200-acre urban services area with new development. Scouts for major developers are showing up at chamber functions. "This is land that has been overlooked," says Brian Powers, president of local utility Indiantown Gas and chair of a redevelopment group.
Businesses to Watch: Galaxy Aviation of Stuart, a private plane servicer at Witham Field, recently cleared another five acres for development and upped its headcount to 26. To combat noise complaints, Witham is taking steps to insulate or purchase nearby homes. ... TurboCombustor Technology, a Sequa Corp. unit that fabricates sheet metal for the aerospace and industrial engine market, looks for an increase in sales from last year's $40 million and to increase its 260-person payroll by a few hires, says general manager Louis Surette. ... Economic developers will be trying to plug the hole in Stuart's manufacturing sector. The area will lose 375 high-paying, high-skilled jobs over the next 18 months with Vought Aircraft Industries' decision to shutter its Stuart operation and consolidate in Texas.
People to Watch: David Giunta, president of Prosperity Development Group in Stuart, and partners Mike Williams and Terry Gropp are prospering with a handful of luxury in-fill projects around the county. They have a loft project in the works in downtown Stuart. ... Owner Joe Mazzochi of Stuart Fine Foods, a market with regular supermarket offerings along with upscale meats and imported products, expects to open a second market in the fall in Palm City.
Developments to Watch: Finished in March, the 150-acre Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center, a county-owned equestrian showfield, arena and festival grounds in Okeechobee, is expected to be an economic engine, drawing crowds from the region. ... Robert Meyer, owner of a historic restoration products company in Stuart, wants to buy 20 acres in a proposed Okeechobee city commerce park, reviving the project.
lessPOPULATION TOTALSCounty???2004Average Annual Growth
?????2000-2004?????TrendIndian River124,1782.29%Martin141,3502.68%Okeechobee39,2382.24%St. Lucie209,6472.02%FLORIDA17,239,6461.80%