Bringing home the bacon

Tradition Center for Innovation

To the left of the curvy road (Village Parkway) is the Tradition Center for Innovation with Tradition Medical Center visible, and beyond that, in the great green area, is the Tradition Center for Commerce. The view is from the north, with Tradition Parkway in the foreground, looking toward Becker Road. CITY OF PORT ST. LUCIE

City anticipating substantial job growth at commerce center in Tradition


Where thousands of citrus trees once produced the juicy oranges and grapefruit for which the Treasure Coast is known, thousands of jobs will eventually sprout in Port St. Lucie. The timetable for the first hiring is about a year away when City Electric Supply and its subsidiary, Tamco, move into the new Tradition Center for Commerce.

The center, 900 acres adjacent to the southern end of the Tradition Center for Innovation alongside Interstate 95, is expected by city officials to turn into a major hub for commercial and light industrial businesses. Just west of it Mattamy Homes of Toronto, Canada, the largest private company building homes in North America, may construct more than 4,000 residences.

Tradition, a community and commercial area west of the interstate and south of St. Lucie West, is within a larger western area of Port St. Lucie called Southern Grove.

That’s all good news Mayor Gregory Oravec says, considering the city’s past history. It originally was planned by its creator, General Development Corp., to be 80,000 quarter-acre residential lots with almost no commercial property. Instead of a city full of retirees that GDC marketed to, it rapidly became a place where families with kids could afford to buy a home. But they had to work elsewhere. And so, Port St. Lucie became known as a bedroom community where people lived, but didn’t work there. It was the city with no downtown.

“We always have to be aware of our history, where we started from,” Oravec says. “We’ve had to retrofit to overcome being a bedroom community.”

Retrofitting to allow for businesses involved a number of tries, including the idea of a city center — which ended up entangled in legal problems — and the idea of a biotech center called the Center for Innovation in Tradition, where two of four businesses failed a few years ago and cost the city millions of dollars. The other two are doing well — a recently expanded hospital, Tradition Medical Center that is part of Martin Health System, and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies.

A four-mile jobs corridor in Tradition, which includes both the Center for Innovation and the Center for Commerce, is the best retrofit, the city council decided. “We already have a booming area with research buildings and a hospital,” Oravec says. “It’s really time to get started on the rest of it.”

Covering about 1,250 acres between Interstate 95 and Village Parkway with an I-95 exit at each end, the corridor is bounded by Tradition Parkway (an extension of Gatlin Boulevard) on the north and Becker Road near the Martin County line on the south.

Long planned for Tradition, the commerce park recently won a $3 million state grant to build an interior loop road, giving the project a huge jump-start, the mayor says. It makes 100 acres available for about 1.1 million square feet of commercial buildings.

City Electric Supply will be the first to move in after it finishes construction of a 400,000-square-foot building on 41 acres, leaving 59 acres in the loop road area available to six other companies. Construction of the first phase of the loop road from Discovery Way to City Electric will begin in July and end in December. The company will move its 222 existing jobs now housed in five buildings in St. Lucie West and create 50 more by July 2019.

As time goes on and more businesses move to the commerce center and the adjacent bio-tech center, city officials say up to 22,500 more jobs can be created to satisfy the needs of the work-hungry city of more than 185,000. The city has an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent — and while that’s good news for the many who found jobs, it can also mean tough times for job-seekers or those hoping to change jobs.

City Electric, founded in 1983 in Tampa, has 458 branches and more than 2,700 employees. The company, cramped with 200,000 square feet of space in St. Lucie West, was considering moving to Dallas or to Charlotte, North Carolina, before deciding to double its space in the new commerce center. Plans call for spending $28 million on manufacturing, distribution and administrative space in the new building and another $10 million on machinery and equipment.

The city isn’t going to make the financial mistakes it made before the Great Recession a decade ago, leaving the city on the hook for huge payments when Digital Domain and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute failed and bailed out, Mayor Oravec says. Because the city had agreed to guarantee payment of the bonds the two companies used to build, the city had to pick up the tab when the companies quit paying.

After adopting a rule change about three years ago, the city can no longer guarantee bonds as an incentive to lure businesses to Port St. Lucie.

Instead, the city chose low-risk incentives such as tax abatements for 10 years (full abatement followed by sliding scale abatement), infrastructure improvements such as the loop road, expedited permitting, and mitigation of impact fees, Oravec explains.

The loop road along with water and sewer improvements will cost $4 million, to be paid for with the $3 million state grant plus $1 million from the Tradition Economic Development fund. Money for that fund was provided by two developers, Wilson Groves and Riverland/Kennedy.

While Port St. Lucie’s residents may be impatient, the wheels are finally rolling on the plan to provide work for them. There’s no question that more jobs are needed, Oravec says. “People say it’s great to be safe and to live here, but we want more jobs. We want to work here.”

With the commercial retrofit, that’s what the city hopes to accomplish.


Learn about the Tradition Center for Commerce:
www.cityofpsl.com In the right-center of the page watch the images in the Highlights box until Southern Grove shows up and when it does, click it.

City Electric Supply decides to move to Tradition:

$3 million grant announcement:
www.cityofpsl.com Hover over Discover Us at the top left. Scroll down to News and click. At the top center of the new page, wait for the changing image to get to “PSL Awarded $3M Grant” and click to read the details.