By Dawn Krebs
FORT PIERCE - At the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency board meeting on Sept. 24, the Fort Pierce City Commission voted 3-1 in front of a crowded room to accept an updated development proposal on Fisherman's Wharf.
The wharf is currently owned by the city, which purchased it shortly after the 2004 hurricanes, for approximately $5 million, at the height of the real estate boom. The property is now valued at approximately $1.5 million.
Development company DGCC had approached city staff earlier in the year about the possibility of taking over the parcel and redevelop it, while swapping the value of the wharf with another piece of land nearby.
Commissioners Rufus Alexander, Reginald Sessions and Mayor Robert Benton voted for the proposal, while Commissioner Edward Becht abstained because of the possibility of conflict of interest with one of his legal clients, while Commissioner Thomas Perona voted no.
The approved proposal consists of a property swap between the city-owned wharf and an entire block between Delaware and Easter avenues, which encompasses 2.46 acres and is worth approximately $1.4 million.
The proposed property also has rental property on it, which brings in an income of up to $88,000 a year.
Jon Ward, director of development for the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency, stressed to commissioners in the presentation, as well as in a memo dated Sept. 17, that the property was currently being leased by the law firm the city attorney belongs to.
Other development plans include demolishing the existing metal building at the wharf and building an up to 6,000-square-foot building that would house the current tenants.
In addition, the developers plan to build viewing stands so the public can watch commercial fishing vessels unload their boats.
"We want the public to walk by the waterfront and be able to watch the fishing boats," said Mr. Ward.
The proposal would also reconfigure existing boat slips, add a fueling station and dredge the marina basin to accommodate lager vessels.
"It will be reconfigured more for commercial fishing boats, to give it a feel of a commercial fishing village," he said.
The redevelopment of the wharf is expected to create about 200 jobs in that area.
During the discussion portion, Commissioner Sessions wanted reassurance that the jobs will go to local residents.
"Put people to work," he said. "I'm all for it. Can we put it in the development contract?"
As to the scope of the project, Mayor Benton said while caution should be taken, this project shouldn't be compared to Digital Domain, which recently closed its Port St. Lucie office and laid off almost 300 employees.
"In this case, we're preserving jobs that are already here and adding more," Mayor Benton said.
"Job creation is a wonderful thing, but job preservation has a value, as well," Mr. Ward said.
Commissioner Perona, who was the only "no" vote on the commission, had reservations about the developer's ability to be able accomplish all the detailed goals proposed.
"We have to try to ensure that we've done everything we can to protect the residents," Commissioner Perona said. "I just want to have a comfort level, and I'm not there yet."
With the development proposal approved, the next step is to complete an official developer's agreement, which will be drawn up and officially presented to the commissioners at a later date.