June 4, 2020

Treasure Coast

Florida Staff | 4/1/2001
Vero Beach: Sprucing Up

Completion of an eye-catching waterfront park is expected to boost business for center-city retailers who suffered from the closure and relocation of the Barber Street Bridge farther north. Though no longer on a main causeway to the barrier island, Royal Palm Pointe is a destination itself. The $5.6-million project includes wide walkways and bike paths and a "participatory" fountain tied to music and lights.

Many things old will also be looking new downtown, beginning with the rehabilitation of an old, city-owned diesel power plant this summer. Barth-Block Redevelopment Corp. plans to create about 4,500 square feet of retail and office space at the abandoned facility and use it to anchor a blossoming commercial district. Next up are improvements to aging Pocahontas Park, followed by an outdoor amphitheater at the neighboring Heritage Center.

The controversial, long-delayed Three Avenues project finally has some tenants in its blue, green and beige buildings. Miami-based City National Bank, which owns the property, now has the buildings about 60% leased. The opening of Cafe Vienna was followed by a new butcher shop, several ladies' clothing stores, an interior designer, an internet company and a golf store. An unnamed tenant will be taking 4,000 square feet of professional office space in May, says Linda Schlitt-Gonzalez, president of on-site leasing agent Coldwell Banker Ed Schlitt. A large anchor restaurant could open by July, picking up foot traffic considerably.

Meanwhile, a $10-million Georgian/Mediterranean-style office/retail center to be called Park Place is being eyed for the barrier island. Farther west, the final touches are being put on a 16,000-sq.-ft. conference center at Indian River Community College.

People to Watch
Chuck Mechling, president of OnSite Management Group, has brought pedestrian-friendly, traditional community design to the mainland with his 605-acre Pointe West development, where homes run between $139,000 and $500,000 and polo matches and golf are played. Next year, restaurants, a general store, health club, physical therapy, daycare and small business offices will be added to the town center.

John Lofgren, five-year executive director of the Center for the Arts, has turned the facility into an accredited art museum with access to better exhibits and grants. He has overseen an expansion that almost doubled its size to 54,000 square feet, including new galleries, a print-making studio and a social hall. He's now working feverishly to build up an endowment fund for future art-loving generations.

Businesses to Watch
Florida Shutters just completed a $750,000 expansion, tripling its manufacturing space to 18,000 square feet, as it gears up for building-code changes requiring hurricane shutters on many coastal homes. Revenues this year are predicted to grow 50%, to about $6 million, and bump the employee count from 45 to 52.

Conrad Pickel Studio, long respected for its ecclesiastical stained glass and sculpture work, is now receiving kudos for its first major public project at Royal Palm Pointe. The nine-employee workshop has spent much of the past year designing glass and ceramic mosaics depicting sun rays, dolphins, citrus, palm trees and other Indian River icons for Royal Palm Pointe's fountain area in the newly revitalized riverfront commercial district.

Key Statistic
Beautiful waterfront homes, a general aviation airport and the desire for anonymity have lured many corporate bigwigs to the barrier island communities in and around Vero Beach. About one-third of the 1,380 residents of John's Island are current or former CEOs, including 50 former chiefs of Fortune 500 companies. Likewise, 20% of Windsor's 119 property owners run or have run companies, with well over half at the nation's biggest firms.
Stuart: Doing It Their Way

The tiny, traffic-clogged city of 20,000 may benefit significantly this year by the resolution of a dispute over a parcel that includes Avonlea, a 50-acre project by developer Frank Wacha Jr.

Wacha's original plan for Avonlea included storefront/apartment units, but county restrictions on mixed-use development had forced him to proceed only with the commercial and industrial phase of the project, which met strict county codes. The city fought the county over whether it could annex the property and finally won -- meaning Wacha can revert to his original plan.

Avonlea is designed to resemble a traditional neighborhood, with wide sidewalks, near-street storefronts and single-family residences within walking distance of the village center that Wacha sees as the antidote to urban sprawl. If on-street parking is too much of a squeeze, there's an auxiliary lot available. The first building will be completed this summer. The downstairs shop/upstairs apartment concept has drawn interest from everyone from wedding-cake makers to lawn-care operators, but speculators have been snapping up most of the reservations.

The city, meanwhile, is finalizing negotiations with the Channing Corp. in Palm Beach Gardens to extend Osceola Street north from the bustling South Point historic area and to relocate City Hall to create room for 200,000 square feet of residential, retail and office space and a 350-space garage. A spot is reserved for an Amtrak station. Taxes have boosted redevelopment coffers to $225,000, says City Planner Kim DeLaney.

Flagler Park will receive a $1-million upgrade that includes a fishing pier, bait-and-tackle store and river walk. Downtown parking and streetscaping, a roundabout at a key intersection and a 60-slip public marina will be tackled next year. There's also a five-year, $15-million plan to clean municipal creeks and create a system of canoe/kayak launches linked to native habitats, attracting eco-tourists.

People to Watch
Patty Winterburn, provost at the Chastain campus of Indian River Community College, promotes a unique economic development approach that assists budding high-tech entrepreneurs while training workers for the jobs that incubator companies provide. She's also a big fan of county partnerships, including one responsible for the opening in June of a library branch on campus and, later, a joint-use high-tech learning center targeting high school juniors and seniors.

Marty Bonan, vice president and general counsel of Fairview South, sold off nearly all of the company's Monterey Triangle property to commercial interests last year. He's now serving as a gubernatorial appointee to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. He's also a member of a task force to end city-county divisiveness and chairs the Economic Council of Martin County.

Businesses to Watch
TurboCombustor Technology, a manufacturer of turbine engine parts, is adding 23,000 square feet to its existing factory to accommodate a 30% rise in sales and 76 new employees added last year. The 305-employee firm is expected to add 30 to 50 jobs this year as a result of continued rising demand for military jets and 50- to 70-seat passenger jet aircraft.

Stuart Jet Center, the city's dominant flight-based operator, rang in the New Year with new owners, Richard Schmidt, a Boca Raton real estate entrepreneur, and Jerry Black, a former Vail, Colo., jet center operator. A 1970s building will be updated with a Casablanca look, and new corporate facilities and hangars will be added to the 50-acre site to provide aircraft refueling, storage and maintenance for corporate customers hailing from ritzy Jupiter Island.

Key Statistic
Stuart has grown 40% as the result of 43 annexations in 1998. The new land includes large, vacant commercial tracts that are being developed with top-notch architecture and landscaping, as required by the city's new design guidelines.
Fort Pierce: Rediscovering the Mall

The long-vacant Orange Blossom Mall is stirring since Convergys Corp., a spinoff of Cincinnati Bell, decided to set up a national customer-care center here in September. Aside from providing 350 sorely needed jobs and the promise of 650 more, the call center has attracted four new retailers -- a sub shop, a coffee shop, an internet cafe and a furniture store -- and the corporate office of a headset-maker. Indian River Community College is about to open a cosmetology program at the mall. An office supply store will come in at about the same time. The 422,000-sq.-ft. facility is also one of the numerous sites being considered for new St. Lucie County School Board administrative offices, says Gerry Chauvin, who is leasing and redeveloping the mall for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Windward Properties. A footwear store, jewelry store, children's clothing retailer, art gallery, gymnastics-training facility and health club were already there when Windward came in early last year.

About 75% of the space remains vacant. Proposals are out for a medical office group and additional technology-oriented companies. Entertainment venues and more retail won't come for at least another year. The focus is on helping employers attract and retain workers by providing everything they need -- from daycare to dental care -- nearby. "Public support and a great location" will make it a winning project, says Chauvin, adding that attracting businesses to the city -- not relocating existing ones -- is his goal.

Although Fort Pierce has on-hand labor and ample transportation routes -- by land, air or sea -- business growth here still pales in comparison to Port St. Lucie, even as island property sales explode. But merchant power plant operators are hungry to locate nearby.

People to Watch
City Manager Dennis Beach is in the process of expanding the city's redevelopment area from a few hundred acres to more than 2,400, taking in both older neighborhoods and Port of Fort Pierce property where taxes paid on private improvements will be used to offset the costs of public infrastructure.

Kevin G. Perry, principal of the newly remodeled Fort Pierce Magnet School of the Arts, has been such a good recruiter that there's a waiting list across all grades (third through eighth) for one of 340 classroom spots. The school, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features teachers of music, art, drama and dance, as well as eight performing-arts troupes.

Businesses to Watch
DNE Sales International, the nation's largest grapefruit marketer and biggest independent citrus export company, as well as the port's largest resident, will be trying to match stellar prior-year sales to Japan and Europe amid economically trying times abroad. A marketing tie-in with Ocean Spray will help, says Bob Egan, who heads up Far East sales. But it may be years before China, a budding orange market, develops an appetite for grapefruit.

Pursuit Boats will add 75,000 square feet to its existing 175,000 when it completes its expansion next year, adding 100 jobs to its current 256 and the ability to meet market demand for bigger vessels, especially sport fishing boats of 30 feet and larger. Despite a shrinking market and cold weather that has slowed boat-buying, sales -- which have grown 500% over seven years -- aren't projected to dip this year.

Key Statistic
Fort Pierce, population 38,000, has an average unemployment rate of more than 13%, a reflection of its seasonal citrus economy that leaves one-quarter of the workforce jobless during the summer.
County Outlook

Martin, St. Lucie
The quest for higher-paying jobs continues in these fast-growing counties. Although Martin County is one of the wealthiest counties in the state, real wages of people who work here have declined over the past decade. But a pro-business government is now at the reins, keeping the focus on high-tech jobs and workforce training as well as building on existing strengths in target industries that include aircraft and boat builders. "I'm optimistic," says Charlene Hoag, executive director of the Economic Council of Martin County. "We finally have a game plan on how to get results."

St. Lucie County is trying to transform its traditional agricultural base into a research- and education-based economy. The pooled brainpower of existing colleges and universities, a new horticultural lab, marine research station and an oceanographic institution with ties to the Phillipe Cousteau Foundation have proposed ideas ranging from degree programs in environmental and water management studies to a science and technology park for the development of ag-related products and services.

The University of Florida and the state Department of Agriculture have teamed up to bring in an invasive-plant lab, to be followed by aquaculture. Florida Atlantic University has piloted a marine sciences program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution that it hopes to grow into a full-fledged campus. And the USDA is providing equipment for drug research at Harbor Branch. Among the possible corporate lures is a soon-to-be-completed golf instruction complex at PGA Village in bustling Port St. Lucie, which is looking more like a legitimate city than a bedroom community.

Person to Watch
Dennis S. Hudson, CEO of Seacoast Banking Corp. of Florida, created a 60-member task force to end divisiveness between "pro-growth" and "no-growth" factions, which he says actually want the same thing -- to maintain Martin County's high-quality lifestyle and natural amenities.
Indian River, Okeechobee
In Indian River County, plans to pump new sand onto county beaches and buy the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring-training camp are being challenged by a petition calling for a referendum to repeal the county's Tourist Development Tax. Local chamber of commerce officials say the move, if successful, would deal a serious blow to the tourist industry, a top employer. Particularly vulnerable is the barrier island, which provides most of the county's tax revenues and is protected by a single dune line. The state has already come through with a $15-million grant for the Dodgertown buyout, but several million more will be needed to finance improvements. About half of the 126-acre complex is to be sold to De Guardiola Development Inc. of West Palm Beach and turned into a "mini-town" with a hotel, conference center, apartments, stores and restaurants. Farther north, Sebastian is independently creating regulations to give its County Road 512 corridor an "Old Florida" look, which will include a 10-acre, multiuse project combining retail, commercial, office, warehouse and storage in a Key West-style of architecture.

Okeechobee County, which has yet to solve its perennially high unemployment rate, will continue to market itself to manufacturers as a low-cost alternative to coastal Florida. Among the new arrivals this year are a warehouse distribution facility for specialized feeds, a manufactured-buildings firm and an aircraft engine rehab company. Airport improvements will include a taxiway to an industrial park, where more and bigger buildings are planned. The state will also be giving eco-tourism a push with a bike/walking trail around Lake Okeechobee.

Business to Watch
Fellsmere-based Garcia Plaza Bakery will be making more of its fresh, special-recipe tortillas to keep up with growing demand by Mexican grocery stores throughout south central Florida. Projections call for more than 52,000 boxes of tortillas to be shipped out this year, up from 31,200 in 2000.
Regional statistics, including population, income and labor information, are included in the print edition only. To order a print copy of the April issue, call (727) 821-5800. To subscribe to Florida Trend online, click here.

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