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Here's why Fort Pierce business owners are encouraging downtown visitors

Business owners and city officials came to WPTV amid concerns recent reporting of violence would tamper downtown patronage
Posted at 6:30 PM, Jul 03, 2024

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — An important conversation continues in Fort Pierce ahead of the busy 4th of July holiday, when hundreds if not thousands of people are expected to head to shops, restaurants and the waterfront to celebrate Independence Day, and WPTV is giving voice to business owners and elected officials working to fight for their city.

For weeks, WPTV has elevated concerns about violence after we covered 12 shootings in the city in two months.

Since then, business owners reached out to us concerned that conversations about recent violence in parts of the city will negatively affect downtown business.

We listened to those concerns, and Tuesday, WPTV's Kate Hussey dug through data to sort through fact versus fiction.

Her analysis of data from the National Gun Violence Archive found of the 186 shootings that happened in the city over the past five years, little to none happened in or near downtown.

She also found that shootings didn't increase in the city, and that overall crime actually dropped.

Wednesday, Hussey went back downtown after more business owners reached out to us, asking for the chance to dispel fears about violence and show what makes the Sunrise City special.

"It's a little concerning, you know," said Donna Qvanstrom, owner of Cobb's Landing restaurant. "We don't experience [violence]. I walk down here all the time, I don't ever feel unsafe."

We elevated the voices of five different people showing what the historic city has to offer, from local business owners to elected officials to Fort Pierce Police Maj. Mike Santiago.

"I don't recall incidents of violence in the downtown Fort Pierce area," Santiago said.

Santiago said with hundreds expected to celebrate in Fort Pierce, police are staging nearly two dozen officers downtown with security towers, ATVs and bikes patrols.

"It's important to us to ensure that everybody is safe," Santiago said.

"We want people to come downtown enjoy the open air environment, enjoy this nice beautiful salt air," added City Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson.

Johnson said the city has installed both hidden and visible cameras to increase security and expects another great turnout for Fort Pierce's annual Stars over St. Lucie Celebration.

"They see what charm we have in the city of Fort Pierce," said Johnson.

"Fort Pierce is a great community, and we’re happy to have everybody here," said Doris Tillman, executive director of Main Street Fort Pierce. "We're going to be working ourselves to be making it all happen tomorrow."

Tillman said she's lined up live music, historic demonstrations, artwork and food vendors for the celebration in Marina Square, which has a fireworks celebration starting at 9 p.m. over the waterfront, near where Cobb's Landing restaurant stands.

"We are a staple of downtown Fort Pierce," said Qvanstrom, "We have people come here just for the fireworks."

Sailfish Brewery's patriotic decorations are already up ahead of the Brewery's own starry celebration.

"We are definitely here to party tomorrow, we have live music all day in addition to the big event in Marina Square," said Sailfish's Taylor Hacker.

All hoped by elevating their voices, folks will come together and see what makes the Sunrise City special.

"We're located on the water, were historic, you can walk to numerous shops," said Qvanstrom.

"We just want to show that we are committed to each other as a community, we're very resilient, and were safe," added Johnson.

Both Johnson and Santiago said they are still listening to folks concerned about the violence, even though it might be coming from other parts of the city.

Johnson said he just met with city administration to evaluate the 2024-2025 budget and said the police department will have an over $20 million budget for the very first time. That's compared to $13 million eight years ago.

"So we've increased that to make it a priority to maintain a safe community," said Johnson.

The city of Fort Pierce sent WPTV the following statement:

“The city’s downtown area remains safe and welcoming, with no recent incidents of violence, and businesses have not been affected by such incidents.

Downtown Fort Pierce boasts a picturesque waterfront, a variety of unique shops, a flourishing arts scene, a historic theater, and a beautiful City Marina. With diverse dining options, lively events, and so much more, our downtown is a beloved spot for both residents and visitors.

Also, the city has been proactive in addressing concerns, including reaching out to the owner of Harmony Music Lounge to provide her with information about the incentives and grant opportunities available to businesses in the City of Fort Pierce. These efforts are part of our broader strategy to stimulate economic growth and ensure the prosperity of our business community.

Additionally, the City of Fort Pierce, in collaboration with the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency (FPRA), remains dedicated to ensuring the security of our city. The city continues to provide police details in the Downtown and Jetty Park areas throughout the weekends, enhancing the safety and comfort of our community.

The City of Fort Pierce deeply appreciates the dedication and hard work of our business owners downtown and throughout Fort Pierce and we will continue to support them. The City of Fort Pierce is a vibrant community where residents, business owners, and visitors flourish together. We invite everyone to experience our beautiful downtown and the surrounding areas of the city where you can explore our diverse offerings and enjoy all that Fort Pierce has to offer.”