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A hometown with gusto



Port St. Lucie Civic Center festival

Ethnic festivals and beautiful weather bring people together for a good time. The diversity of its residents makes Port St. Lucie a model city. CITY OF PSL PHOTO

Port St. Lucie pivots from a once-sleepy retirement community to becoming one of the nation’s top-performing cities

BY DEBRA MAGRANN

So what draws people to live, work and play in Port St. Lucie?

For many, it is the affordability factor in the housing market. For others, it is because their relatives relocated here in the heydays of the early ‘60s, and it’s time to help the folks downsize or make alternate living arrangements. And for still others, it’s the lure of coastal living with beautiful beaches within a short driving distance, ocean access through canals and river fingerlets and unforgettable sunsets.

CITY ON THE RISE
Mayor Greg Oravec gave his State of the City address in November to a packed council chamber at City Hall. Recognizing the challenges ahead, Oravec said Port St. Lucie is definitely a city on the rise, basing his pride on hardworking city employees, community champions, his fellow council members and a fistful of recognitions from powerhouse reviewers like Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily and Bloomberg Business.

The criteria for evaluating a city’s ability to provide a robust, baby-boomer retirement lifestyle is built on key factors that include access to quality physicians, volunteer opportunities, a caring social support system and low crime rates. Since 2013, Port St. Lucie has been favored by Forbes’ top 10 list two years in a row as being a best place for business, careers and job growth.

Forbes sifted through a lot of data to craft its 2014 list of Top 25 Best Places to Retire. Aspects ranging from overall cost of living, crime rates, air quality, volunteer opportunities and walkability helped Port St. Lucie make the list. Additional indicators include boomers seeking a working retirement and moderate home pricing.

“Being the best at anything in the United States of America is no small feat,” says Oravec.” He urged all residents to work smart, hard and together as a team to achieve a better future.

The mayor reminded the audience that Florida has no state income tax, making it very attractive to lure business here. Florida also surpassed New York last year to become the third most populous state. An average of more than 800 new residents move to the state every day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. He added that the city ranks among the best in the nation to retire, is in second place out of five hottest U.S. housing markets, and is among the top 50 best places to live, culled from 550 cities with populations of 65,000 or more.


Did You Know?


With 174,000 residents, Port St. Lucie is Florida’s ninth largest city by population*
* University of Florida Bureau of Economic & Business Research estimate



NEW STRATEGY

But dramatic growth has taught city leaders that it is time to refocus attention on what is important and create a vibrant, supportive network of services and planning practices to meet the needs of longtime stakeholders, tourists and business owners well into the future. These days it’s slow and steady that makes for better policy at City Hall. As time goes on, the city will grow ― only this go around will be different ― a more measured approach. The spirit of welcome wagons may be a bygone custom, but city staffers are rolling out the red carpet to provide customer satisfaction through teamwork and dedication to a new strategic plan.

Adopted in November, the living document allows for modifications to make room for future adjustments. It includes fine-tuning and streamlining city departments, prioritizing immediate actions to be taken and the outlines of specific goals through 2020. By 2030, Port St. Lucie, looks to be the hometown for all ages.

In a city handout, “The City of Port St. Lucie ― A Path to Prosperity 2015-2016,” which is available to the public, other immediate goals like rescuing the bond rating and clearing up the overall deficit prove that city council is serious about lean governing. The new budget scales back full-time employees to just above a 2008 total. City taxes have risen, but fortunately, the Save Our Homes amendment provides homesteaded properties a protective measure. The 3 percent cap makes purchasing a Port St. Lucie home as a primary residence very attractive.


Did you know?


Nationwide, Port St. Lucie has one of the highest per capita homeownership rates among comparable metropolitan markets.*
* US Census Bureau reports



With an ever-growing elder population comes the challenges of supplying services to meet physical, mental and social needs. Engaging seniors to follow their personal pursuits allows them to age with dignity as they continue to be contributing members of the community. Volunteering opportunities are abundant in many departments citywide from police to animal control, at many park facilities as well as the community and civic centers. Volunteer boards like Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful and Friends of the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens, a nonprofit organization, utilize talents of individuals with backgrounds in business, horticulture, landscaping, event planning and more.

Port St. Lucie is devoted to its veterans and champions Honor Flights, hosts annual Memorial and Veterans Day ceremonies including the 9/11 service at the civic center and works diligently to partner with countywide social service agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs/St. Lucie County Veteran Services office and the Council on Aging. The new star in the city’s cap is the procurement of the soon-to-be realized Ardie R. Copas State Veterans’ Nursing Home, one of only seven in Florida.

FAMILY FRIENDLY
Families round out the blueprint for living in Port St. Lucie. The City for All Ages theme is meaningful because of a focus on intergenerational activities that bring together not only young and old but a mix of many cultures. The cosmopolitan atmosphere is spicy with a twist of mellow. City celebrations blend traditional European roots with ethnic awareness and citizen organizations reflect the nationalities of people from other lands. Annually, four major festivals mark America’s heritage as the melting pot of nations: Taste of Little Italy in Tradition and Festival Italiano, the St. Patrick’s Day parade and Oktoberfest, all at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center. Whether you live eastside, riverside, St. Lucie West or Tradition, the city’s welcome mat is well-worn by everyday people settling in to good living here.

Throngs more are expected to leave their hometowns for tropical Florida, and Port St. Lucie is preparing to receive them. The projected growth could double the city’s population in the next 20 years. That is something for which the city council is preparing. In the words of prominent cattle rancher Alto “Bud” Adams, “You (Port St. Lucie) are to be congratulated on building it into a modern, high-class city, and you deserve a lot of credit for that.”

COMMUNITY CONSENSUS
Across the board, city departments are welcoming and open to improving services in a number of key areas. Plans to unify neighborhoods began last spring with strategies to engage the populace in conversations about what it wants the city to be. Maintaining a small-town feel may prove to be challenging, but planning and zoning director Patti Tobin, who leads the new neighborhoods initiative, is intent on listening to what residents have to say. And when hometown messaging comes to mind, the city likes to think in terms of the best. Selling points like family oriented, active adult resort living and friendly neighborhoods are truisms here.

Walk down a street or attend an event in town and you see life everywhere ― young marrieds, children playing in parks, youth gathering and active seniors ― neighbors sharing conversation. Ask someone you meet where they live, and it’s usually defined by major roadways. By creating iconic identities, pockets of the city will be easier to locate. The how-to of designing identifiers for and defining each neighborhood is in motion. With time and patience, new enhancements will strengthen community ties.

EARLY BEGINNINGS
A common observation among residents and newcomers is the lack of a downtown that provides a greater sense of community.

“The city was built for General Development,” Tobin adds. “Today, many people wonder about the methodology of such a plan, but looking at land design of the 1960s, it’s easy to understand the thought of why things are the way they are. Making it work now is the job of staff who are doing a Herculean task of re-envisioning the past and modeling a new future out of the clay, brick and mortar that is already established.”

With that in mind, a citizens summit was held in 2014 and from that meeting came a blueprint for neighborhood planning.

“This whole planning effort is about what the community wants ― not planning and zoning, not the building department, not politicians ― but what the neighbors want,” explains Tobin. Physical boundaries (U.S. 1, the river, Bayshore Boulevard) split the city into planning areas with sub-sections being smaller neighborhoods. With 15 planning areas in all, the first six to be included in talking sessions are in the central and eastern sections of town. The population of 40,000 residents in the core (Archer Avenue to the north, the river to the east, Canal 24 to the south and the Florida Turnpike to the west) is almost the size of the city of Fort Pierce ― a city within the city. The question then becomes, “How do we break it down?” Messaging is the tool that is being used to get the word out and drive community interest through civic organizations, homeowner’s associations, Realtors ― to as many members in the areas as possible.

“Residents know their needs; it’s their city. It can be difficult to get the news out. Communication is the key,” Tobin says.


Did you know?


Port St. Lucie is the third largest Florida city in overall size at 116 square miles and the ninth largest in Florida for its population.*
* City website



Neighbors in planning Area 3 (zip codes 34983 and 34984) met after an online survey was implemented. Questions posed in the survey were about improvements like signage, pocket parks and traffic calming measures. The creative process for new branding of the central area is in a concept stage while the remaining areas have been sectioned out and targeted for future input from residents.

By entering the process, residents are able to gain a new awareness of their surroundings and take pride and ownership as the community is strengthened through relationships. It is the city’s hope to create stable neighborhoods and provide quality, affordable housing in a scalable economy with enhanced leisure choices and ease of mobility.

The next step is to meet with focus groups: senior populations, business community and youth. Since planning timelines are way into the future, teens will be young adults when all the changes are implemented, making it important to bring them in as partners, too. The overall acceptance of the forecasted changes have been favorable. Over and over, Tobin and her team have heard how much people love Port St. Lucie.


Did you know?


You can contact Planning & Zoning at 772.871.5213 or visit the website: pslneighborhoods.com.



INFRASTRUCTURE IMPROVEMENTS
Connectivity is a key to an on-the-go populace. Necessary infrastructure such as sidewalks are a high safety priority and miles of paths are being sculpted as community connectors for use by pedestrians, students at bus stops, cyclists and power walkers. The city places high importance on placement within two miles of schools. From 2005 to 2013, nearly 40 miles of sidewalks were constructed.

PAYING FOR IT
It will take some doing to realize these plans with limited resources. Prioritizing use of open space, while integrating pedestrian activities and other improvements, can be achieved with creative funding and unconventional partnerships. Innovative thinkers are going out of the box for funding sources. Public-private and nonprofit granting entities, including crowd sourcing, are filling gaps caused by reductions in available federal grants.

ACCESS TO AMENITIES
Port St. Lucie’s energetic lifestyle is embraced by growing families and sunsetters. The Parks and Recreation Department offers an abundance of activities for all ages and prides itself on delivering quality programming. Water activities and river relaxation are natural stress-busters that build greater appreciation of our ecosystems. Safe, well-cared-for parks and manicured golf courses are part of the overall appeal to sports enthusiasts. The at-home feel is seen throughout the city’s many event offerings: holiday happenings, annual remembrances and festivals. Port St. Lucie has enviable amenities and recreational facilities that are enjoyed every day at more than 40 sites.

Year-round recreation activities are the hallmarks of the coastal life and climate. Being outdoors is a major part of the Treasure Coast experience. A new green economic model is on the rise, soon to burst on the scene.

LIVING THE GREEN LIFE
A recent update from Charles Barrowclough, St. Lucie County environmental lands coordinator, outlined highlights of the Florida East Coast Greenways and Trails conference as it relates to utilizing conservation areas as pedestrian recreation in the growing ecotourism industry. Working together with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, the Greenways and Trails Master Plan includes equestrian trails, pedestrian foot paths, camping and kayaking. Adoption of a corridor plan is a priority for Florida to link conservation areas with 15 other states.

Known as the Green River Parkway Trail in Martin and St. Lucie counties, it is 6 miles long, representing the area as the longest segment of trails from here to Miami-Dade County. When connected, it will be a traffic-free route of 2,900 miles along the eastern coastal states. The new green mobility will ultimately culminate in a patchwork of connections from New England to Key West, futuristically speaking.

The city is positioning itself to be among an alliance of similar organizations nationwide that encourage people to get moving by giving their vehicles a rest. Events celebrating everything pedestrian from walking the pooch to pedaling are popping up as cyclists influence their allies to pocket their car keys.

Chambers of Commerce from Miami to Maine are leading the way in promoting healthier alternatives of transport via people-power. Still more than a decade away, linking ecotourism with the future of green mobility is a solid principal being used by land planners.

The Atlanta Beltline is an example of modern infrastructure that links myriad sectors through multiuse trails and transit. What is yet to be seen on the Treasure Coast are plans to make the leap of faith to take this concept to the next level. Not only is this an affordable and money-saving alternative, it is a happening in counties to the south.

Florida attracts business and industry relocation, in part, because there is no state income tax. An added bonus is a great climate. Add to that, modern infrastructure, natural environment and a progressively skilled workforce ― all pluses that Port St. Lucie has to offer. Many new businesses coming to town are trendy and hip or focus on health and fitness. A youthful influx of entrepreneurs is also taking root.

As Port St. Lucie matures, it will remain a cosmopolitan mix of working-class families, upscale moderns and active retirees who all call it their home. The future holds tremendous possibilities. This city, whose desire it is to be the heart of the Treasure Coast, is just scratching the surface of its potential.