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Potential development on Fort Pierce waterfront faces opposition but could bring in millions of dollars

Petition in opposition has more than 2,000 signatures but others express excitement
Posted at 6:06 PM, Feb 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-27 18:08:39-05

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — WPTV is taking a closer look at the economic impact of the potential development planned to turn Fisherman's Wharf in downtown Fort Pierce into a waterfront destination for tourists and locals.

According to Pete Tesch, president of the Economic Development Council (EDC) of St. Lucie County, his office performed an in-house independent economic impact study on the project and found it would bring the county and the city millions of dollars in revenue.

His office estimated that the total economic output is roughly $26.5 million for the local economy, creating 217 jobs with a labor income of about $6.8 million annually.

Tesch also said he's in favor of the project.

"The EDC works very closely with a lot of different projects, both commercial and industrial, we've been working with county commissioners, the city of Fort Pierce and Mr. [Chris] Shelli," Tesch said. "We wrote a letter to Mayor [Linda] Hudson saying we were in favor of this mixed-use redevelopment project so long as it's consistent with the overall master plan because of its economic impact."

Chris Shelli outlined to WPTV the benefits the project would bring to Fort Pierce.
Chris Shelli outlined to WPTV the benefits the project would bring to Fort Pierce.

"They were supportive of this project, and the economic impact speaks for itself, the amount of job creation this will bring, the amount of taxable revenue for the city and the county, it will help increase the tax base, create jobs," Shelli told WPTV Friday.

According to the project's site plan, if the project goes through, the current open space on the wharf will be turned into shops, restaurants, a green space and other tourist attractions. In addition, the public access boat ramp will be replaced by a multi-story fully-automated boathouse, which Shelli said is still under design.

Local business owner Taylor Shull is thrilled. The restauranteur said he's opening up a restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf because of the development.

"We're really excited," Shull said. "With the growth and what's coming to Fort Pierce, I decided to do it. "This is great for the city. It's great for Florida. I'm going to be employing 40-50 people myself. I've been in development for a long time, and what's going to happen there is a good thing."

Fort Pierce resident Margaret Fairchild is also a fan of the project.

"I feel good. I feel good. I'm looking forward to it," Fairchild said. "I think it's going to make Fort Pierce known. People want to come here."

She also said she's excited about the jobs the new complex would bring to town.

"I actually might look for a part-time job myself," Fairchild said, adding she's not worried about the traffic the tourists will likely bring.

"No, no, I lived in Fort Lauderdale for 14 years so I'm used to traffic," Fairchild said.

Margaret Fairchild of Fort Pierce says she supports the project at Fisherman's Wharf.
Margaret Fairchild of Fort Pierce says she supports the project at Fisherman's Wharf.

Yet many others, including Rick Modine, disagree.

"When you have this [development] put in, the traffic will be even worse," Modine said. "What a disaster that would be, especially with the Brightline getting put in. We're long-term residents trying to oppose it."

Modine and others started a petition to oppose the development. As of Monday, he told WPTV that more than 2,000 people have signed it. Modine said he fears with the replacement of the public access boat ramp with a multi-story boat house, the traffic drawn in by current locals and tourists would die out.

"I don't know the people it's going to draw. We have fishing tournaments here all the time. And their business gives hotels, restaurants, bait and tackle shops, gas taxes they pay," Modine said. "So, you say you're bringing in and generating money when you're offsetting that with what the local businesses would bring."

Shelli said the boat ramp will be relocated to Harbor Point Park about half a mile north of the current boat ramp and says the new boat ramp will be bigger, more accessible, more storm-resilient and modernized.

Rick Modine is among those opposed to the waterfront development in Fort Pierce.
Rick Modine is among those opposed to the waterfront development in Fort Pierce.

Still, Modine, a fifth-generation Fort Pierce resident, said it's also about history. Modine said he's not necessarily opposed to change but wishes he got a say in changing the place his family has boated and fished at for generations.

"This hits everybody from all walks of life, from little kids, to retirees, to the people if you've seen— these people are coming in and out of the boat all day long on a Monday," Modine said. "We love this place. We know we can't keep it a secret. We know that. But we what want to protect it and make it valuable for the next generation, and if we don't step up now, we have nothing to give our grandchildren."

Again, while the contract between city commissioners and the developer was signed in 2021, the original land grant for Fisherman's Wharf contains what's called a "Right of Reverter" clause, which means the city can't officially sell it to a private entity without state approval.

That approval is currently pending.

WPTV was again unable to get ahold of city commissioners for an interview about the project.