Connecting with nature
A city project will connect the Veterans Memorial Park boardwalk that runs along the shore of the North Fork of the St. Lucie River to Westmoreland Park. JOHN BIONDO PHOTO
Council proceeding with Riverwalk expansion plans to link city parks
BY SUSAN BURGESS
Construction of Port St. Lucie’s long-awaited outdoor cultural, entertainment and recreational center on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River could begin along the river bank as early as late this year or during the first half of 2018.
A 2,000-foot extension of the existing Riverwalk boardwalk linking Veterans Memorial Park to Westmoreland Park is set to begin after the City Council approves the plans, which could be in late April, and permits are issued. The permits must come from the South Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Department of Transportation.
“The Riverwalk project celebrates the citizens of Port St. Lucie’s historical relationship with the North Fork of the St. Lucie River,” City Manager Russ Blackburn said. “The river is the key element of our history and is integral to our future.”
The boardwalk will give pedestrians a picturesque riverfront walk that is just 900 feet short of a mile. Starting at Veterans Memorial Park on the north side of Port St. Lucie Boulevard, it will head south to Westmoreland, passing beneath the boulevard, allowing walkers to avoid the high-traffic street with its six lanes of whizzing cars.
It will also provide dock space for boats so that people can arrive by boat and then walk to the park or to the adjacent Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens. There are a lot of boats in the city — most are just hidden in canals that wind among houses in various developments.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
Plans for the 22.7-acre park on Westmoreland Boulevard include 9.7 acres with a play area for children, a canoe and kayak launch, an historical area featuring two buildings moved from the old Peacock Ranch, possibly three restaurants, an open-air amphitheater by the water with seating (think of Stuart’s Riverwalk), floating docks and two docks that can be used by the disabled. The design leaves plenty of open grassy space and retains the existing large banyan tree — a star attraction.
Thirteen adjacent acres form a conservation preserve with simple trails for those who want to explore, look for wildlife, and take pictures.
“It fulfills a longstanding community desire for a gathering place,” Mayor Greg Orevac said. “It creates a recreational and cultural destination on our unique natural resource (the river).” The waterfront location “puts the port into Port St. Lucie,” he added.
The new park is different from any other park in the city, Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo said. “It’s unique among what we have. It will be a cultural destination because of its historical components. It will have a natural (style) play area based on the environment it’s in. It will have chickees (raised-floor pavilions covered with interwoven palm fronds), docks, plus connections to Bridge Plaza (on Port St. Lucie Boulevard) and a conservation area with trails.”
The natural conservation area connects to the developed section of the park via trails from the parking lots and from the waterfront boardwalk.
PRESERVING THE VIEW
When the plan comes back to the City Council sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency on March 27, Oravec said he isn’t going to be looking for major changes. He simply wants to ensure accessibility and that “the view is right.”
That comment reflects a discussion the CRA board held during a two-part meeting on Nov. 28 and Dec. 5 about making sure that waste receptacles, bathrooms, delivery trucks and the like don’t get in the way of the public’s view of the park and its waterfront and that structures don’t block the view. One change that was made from the original conceptual plan was the replacement of a single large restaurant with three smaller ones that have open space between them.
The park’s original design was created by nearly 100 community members who brainstormed ideas at a March 27, 2015, public meeting. Members of the American Institute of Architects Treasure Coast Chapter collected the suggestions and drew up a conceptual plan that was presented to the council in October 2015.
A $250,000 state grant in 2016 for design and permitting of the project paved the way to hiring Culpepper and Terpening, a local engineering firm. The result, a modified plan with less density and more open green space that still incorporated many of the features agreed upon at the March 2015 public meeting, was presented to the CRA in November. The site plan was submitted in January to the city Site Plan Review Committee.
On March 27, the CRA board will be have a chance to discuss the plan again before it goes to the Planning and Zoning Board for approval probably on April 4 and tentatively to the City Council for approval on April 24.
Funding for the project comes from a variety of sources: grants, building impact fees, the city’s Conservation Trust Fund and from the money left over from bonds for special assessment districts.
A five-year financial plan drafted by city staffers shows the project being completed in the 2019-2020 fiscal year at a total estimated cost of $6.2 million. But the estimated cost is only a ballpark estimate. The most expensive estimates are for the boardwalk extension at $2.5 million and the development of the portion containing the playground, historical buildings, restaurants and other recreational and entertainment facilities at an estimated $2.4 million.
Portions of the plan could be moved earlier or later.
Residents can attend the next discussion of the park by the Community Redevelopment Agency at 6:30 p.m. on March 27, followed by a City Council meeting at 7 p.m.
(Subject to change)
Design and permitting: 2016-17
Construction of the boardwalk extension: 2017-2018
Historical building relocation to Westmoreland Park: by 2018
Conservation tract improvements such as trails: 2018-2019
Historical, recreational, food and entertainment section development: 2019-2020