Changing of the guard

Fort Pierce City marina

The new $30 million Fort Pierce City Marina, which was completed last year, is an example of one of the city’s largest public works projects. GREG GARDNER PHOTO

New leadership at the top has city moving ahead


The phrase “ a city on the rise” is a common thread heard lately when government and business leaders are discussing the changes that have occurred in Fort Pierce.

The reason for their optimism: leadership changes at city hall and the police department, and redevelopment plans for the Orange Avenue corridor to downtown.

In December, City Manager Nick Mimms was hired after Robert Bradshaw lost the confidence of the City Commission. Mimms has plans to increase and improve housing stock, create more job opportunities, attract new business and retain established businesses, and improve customer service for residents. Keeping city property well maintained and creating a harmonious workplace are personal priorities.

“We are becoming a source of pride for our residents,’’ Mimms said. “Visitors are amazed at what we have to offer. We have nautical amenities that people enjoy. Our waterfront is pristine and people can’t get enough of it.’’

As city manager, Mimms has targeted vacant city-owned properties, including the Old Post Office, for redevelopment. The Orange Avenue corridor is on the drawing board to become a gateway to historical downtown Fort Pierce and an arts district.

The proposed district is the inspiration of developer Steve Tarr. His building at 111 Orange Ave., home of ArtMundo and Peacock Clay Collaborative, is part of his vision to create an arts collective that will eventually include live/work space.

“I envision the PAD — Peacock Arts District — to bring beauty along Orange Avenue. I am learning and trying to create jobs,” stated Tarr, a developer who has a portfolio of condo properties as well as downtown sites where he hopes to kick it up a notch.

With an eye for important details, he is keenly aware of branding properties to give them greater emphasis. His high-profile identification of the 111 Orange Ave. building is a work in process. He is co-founder of the new Fort Pierce Business Alliance, formed to cooperate with other like-minded individuals whose ambitions are to create a vibrant retail area filled with cottage industries and boutique businesses.

Potential economic impact is huge in other real estate sectors, too. The list of new commercial development in Fort Pierce is impressive: St. James Christian Academy at the Orange Blossom Mall site, Square Grouper restaurant at the Inlet, Rocla Concrete Rail Tie Inc. on South 3rd Street and Dyer Chevrolet on U.S. 1 — all totaling $20.8 million.

New residential projects, either under way, completed, or in permitting, amount to $17.85 million. These include Mariner Cove at Edwards and Jenkins Roads; Oak Alley Office Park on 25th Street; Hernando Homes on South Beach; and the granddaddy of them all, Inlet Palms, an exclusive group of gated, 7-unit luxury town houses each with a 55-foot boat slip, elevator and private pool listed at $1.35 million and represented by Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty.

Even blighted areas are receiving assistance from the city’s Paint Our Town program — a collaborative effort with volunteer labor from World Changers to assist SHIP homeowners who cannot afford to maintain the exterior of their homes. By recycling its surplus paint, the city takes the lead in selecting homes of needy candidates. The mission is to provide outreach to the community, building awareness for neighbors to take notice.

“A bucket of paint can bring pride to a neighborhood,” Mimms said.

To that end, a mural project will be launched soon in Lincoln Park. Residents will join forces with artists to paint selected sites. And the city has joined forces with FPUA and Keep Fort Pierce Beautiful with the PAINT BOX project — giving local artists the opportunity to create a public canvas on electrical utility boxes.

The project’s signature work is in front of the gazebo at Marina Square on Indian River Drive and the roundabout at Avenue A. The five-paneled switch box tells a visual history of Fort Pierce in a vibrant, picture postcard-style crafted by Treasure Coast muralist Brenda Leigh. Her style is admired by drivers and pedestrians daily and the crowds who attend Friday Fests and Saturday markets.

“It’s absolutely beautiful,” remarked Gerrie Biegner. “It’s a great tribute to the city. I’ve watched it be transformed and it is stunning. What a great idea.’’

Also enhancing the city’s image are a number of projects that have finally come to fruition.

The new $30 million Fort Pierce City Marina in downtown opened in June 2015. The marina, with 137 boat slips, was rebuilt and expanded after back-to-back hurricanes ripped out most of its docks in 2004.

Just south of the Fort Pierce City Marina, the Melody Lane fishing pier also has recently opened. The pier offers bike racks, solar lighting, tackle disposal units and a fish cleaning table. Two grants were awarded from the Florida Inland Navigation District totaling $312,500. Additional monies matched city funds to complete the project.

The benefits of the new pier are dual: It serves as a site for regional fishing tournaments and a viewing area for big events like the 4th of July fireworks and the Christmas Boat Parade. Naturally, the pier is a haven for birdwatching amid the man-made islands.

It also features the art of two of Fort Pierce’s own: the lady of glass mosaics, Anita Prentice and bronze sculpture artisan Pat Cochran. A musical theme greets visitors at the entrance and is carried throughout on the aluminum benches.

A $30,000 grant from Florida Humanities Council has helped in creating a tribute to the area’s African American artists known as the Highwaymen. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will open the city’s third heritage trail on Feb. 20 and will feature a Highwaymen meet-and-greet, guided trail tours, an art show and a festival. This is the third of 10 planned trails across the city that explore the lives of prominent Fort Pierce residents. The first, Zora Neale Hurston Dust Tracks highlights a rich, cultural heritage followed by the life and legacy of A. E. “Bean” Backus Trail.

Another grant has given the Lincoln Park Theatre on Avenue D a new facade, including an exterior paint job, storm-grade windows, a new entryway and lettering. The face-lift is the first phase in its renovation.

While Mimms is settling into a new job, so is Diane Hobley-Burney, a former Tampa police major and Fort Pierce’s first African American police chief.

After a unanimous decision by the city commission in April and being sworn in June 1, Chief Hobley-Burney wasted no time in setting the tone and exhibiting the human side of community policing as she set out to visit minority neighborhoods. “There is a new day in Fort Pierce,” she said. A rash of gang-related violence had dominated news reports for months. Her plan to develop a special task force to stem these violent acts was ramped up. Since her hire, many more guns have been removed from the streets.

“In Honor We Serve” is the anchor of Chief Hobley-Burney’s public safety philosophy. Her strategy is to build trust and a support network resulting in easing tension. Committing to a supportive role in police presence, she hopes to convey that protecting the community is a sustained process and it takes everyone’s cooperation.

“We do more than law enforcement,” she explained. Officers participate in programs ranging from Shop with a Cop and Santa Cop to mentoring youth in the schools. “Courage for Life” at C.A. Moore Elementary is an innovative way to overcome the negative perception of police work. Officers visit with fifth-grade students in an attempt to get to know each other better.

The police chief has also implementing the Front Porch Roll Call. Twice a week, patrol supervisors hold roll calls at mom-and-pop establishments like Granny’s Kitchen on Avenue D. This gives residents insight into what is working and where the community can assist. The sessions focus on setting and building a rapport with officers. And it seems to be working, according to Deputy Police Chief Frank Amandro, who noted that the number of tips has risen dramatically. He hopes that more businesses will get involved.

According to Mayor Linda Hudson, the bottom line for government is service. Like many small American cities, she sees the frustration of how to solve issues of unemployment, poverty, crime, and homelessness with limited city resources.

“We all want our cities to thrive and we don’t want to stand in the way of having our citizens prosper,” Hudson said.