FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The mass shooting at a Dr. Martin Luther King Day event last week cast an unwelcome spotlight on Fort Pierce— a city that for years has been working to improve its image.
Tuesday, city leaders took on the next steps to change hearts and minds of residents and visitors.
Bob Hodgins had spent the last several winters in Stuart but he’s concerned about overcrowding and traffic.
When he couldn’t find anything there this season, he headed north, to Fort Pierce, and really liked what he found.
“It’s like a new experience, we’re finding all kinds of places to spend time,” said Hodgins.
It’s that kind of sentiment that is music to the ears of Mayor Linda Hudson.
“It is a city that we’ve learned, if you come here and visit, you say this is a great place,” Hudson said.
The mayor and city commission engaged in an all day strategic planning session Tuesday to map out the city’s vision in the coming years. A negative perception of the city is listed under Long Term Challenges and Opportunities.
“I’ve always said the most important thing to me is that we have a safe city and we do have a safe city,” Hudson said.
While the city’s violent crime rate is higher than the state average, FBI data shows the overall crime rate is falling, a trend that could transform its image.
Right now, there are a number of transformative projects already underway in the city.
The Kings Landing project will bring apartments, retail and the first hotel to the city’s downtown core.
Business owner Becky Demanuel at Chic and Shore banked her future on Second Street in Fort Pierce 10 years ago.
She’s optimistic the city can rebound from this month’s tragedy.
“It’s a lovely place to visit eat, shop, sporting events— everything,” Demanuel said.
As for Hodgins, if he comes back to Florida next winter, it just might be Fort Pierce again.
“We’re really enjoying it,” he said.