by Mike Vogel
Updated 3 yearss ago
As veteran port executive Stan Payne says, recent times have been a golden age for Florida ports. State, local and federal governments have invested $3 billion to rev up the state’s ports as economic engines.
Then there’s the Port of Fort Pierce, the little engine that couldn’t. It has “not come close to achieving its potential in terms of economic development,” St. Lucie County Administrator Howard Tipton said earlier this year.
Nearly a century old, the port is unusual in Florida in that, until last year, all of its working waterfront and most of nearby port acreage was in private hands. Back in the day, it shipped citrus. More recently, it has handled Bahamas-bound building materials and cargo for Guantanamo Bay, but volumes have dwindled.
The county hopes the port’s slow days are about to change in a big way. In 2018, it paid $22 million to buy the 12.5-acre working waterfront. In April, the county was holding talks with Derecktor Shipyards, a firm with facilities at Dania Beach in Florida and in New York and Maine, to develop a megayacht service yard at the port as a maintenance, retrofit and overhaul site. “It’s going to change the perception and the reality and the economics of the Treasure Coast,” County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky has said.
In addition to the waterfront purchase, the county spent another $3 million to acquire a 10% stake in 67 undeveloped acres at the port held by a separate private owner. The county already owned another 20 undeveloped acres.
Both the county and Derecktor see the port as well positioned for the superyacht business, with a special appeal for sailing vessels. No bridges or powerlines lie between the port and the nearby inlet.
Payne, hired last year as executive director of the seaport and county airport, is a former CEO of the Canaveral Port Authority. He says that a megayacht service yard at the port could bring 900 well-paying jobs in high-skill fields, including yacht plumbers and electricians. Derecktor plans to develop programs with nearby Indian River State College to train workers. “The job-creation opportunities are tremendous,” Payne says.
Payne also sees synergy between the yacht facility and an aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul hangar being developed 10 miles away at the 3,660-acre Treasure Coast International Airport and Business Park. The seaport and airport are tied together with Customs service and under a foreign trade zone. “Interesting in that both are in the midst of transformations, both focused on creating a trained, technical workforce to support the MRO business,” Payne says. “Great stuff. Keeps things hopping.”
Read more in our May issue.
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