FORT PIERCE — Plans for people to buy, eat or watch local seafood getting hauled in by commercial fishermen at the northwest base of the South Causeway Bridge are moving forward.
“We intend to put the fish back into Fisherman’s Wharf,” said Butch Terpening of engineering firm Culpepper & Terpening.
City commissioners, acting as the Fort Pierce Redevelopment Agency board, voted 4-0 at a special meeting on Monday to work with a team of local land owners and businesses to develop the Fisherman’s Wharf area.
They received two proposals after putting out a request in April, but proposals were sealed until the meeting based on state statute.
Commissioner Eddie Becht abstained from voting because he represents Pelican Seafood Co., which is one of the groups involved in the plans.
Based on city staff’s recommendation, commissioners chose the team consisting of local land owners Mike Abinanti and Mike Heiser, Inlet Fisheries, Pelican Seafood Co., Culpepper & Terpening, landscape planner Thomas Lucido & Associates, contractor Steve Weaver of Realtime Property Development Services, spokesman Sam Yates of Yates & Associates and attorney Frank “Speedy” Fee.
The other proposal from Harold “Buzz” Smyth of Smyth Builders focused on the city’s vision of bringing in a hotel, as well as a restaurant, marina and water-facing amphitheater. He would have leased the property with the option to buy in the future.
“It’s all about making Fort Pierce a destination to be proud of,” Smyth said. “I know this property better than anyone in the area.”
However, Smyth’s plan included properties that surround the Fisherman’s Wharf property but aren’t owned by the city. The redevelopment agency bought the wharf land for $5.5 million in 2007.
City Department of Urban Redevelopment Director Jon Ward, who is in charge of the redevelopment agency, said it’s a “fabulous dream but more of a concept” because no timeline or financial plan was presented.
“It’s a visionary proposal,” Ward said. “It takes a very holistic view of the area.”
Instead, commissioners are considering a land swap proposed by Abinanti and Heiser, who own about 2 acres southeast of the Citrus Avenue overpass, to develop the wharf land as a blend of commercial, retail, hospitality, entertainment, ecotourism, public use, education and business retention and expansion.
Commissioners and city staff plan to find out if Abinanti and Heiser are willing to give up more land they own to even out the deal as they work out a developer’s agreement.
Although the city would lose more than $3.5 million through the land swap based on taxable values of both properties, Terpening said the city’s return on investment would be worth it. He said the public benefit outweighs the loss.
Plans for commercial seafood, a fresh seafood market, a restaurant with outdoor seating, a public waterfront boardwalk, marina boat slips, a fish off-loading area and public art in the form of historical markers would employ about 215 people and have a direct financial impact to the city of nearly $16.5 million, Terpening said.
When factoring in the community impact multiplier, Terpening said the plans would have an indirect financial impact of more than $115 million.
Construction costs would total at least $2 million, Terpening said. The first phase would consist of renovating the existing building on the wharf land to include a restaurant, Pelican Seafood and facilities for Inlet Fisheries within six months.
The second phase is expected to take longer because of the permitting required to dredge the Indian River Lagoon connected to the wharf land and build a marina.
With the land swap proposal, Commissioner Reggie Sessions said the wharf land would get developed in his lifetime.
Commissioner Tom Perona said the plans could drive more people to the waterfront to watch the commercial fishermen bring in their catches and fling fish, much like Pike Place Market in Seattle.
Mayor Bob Benton, who said he worked on commercial fishing boats in the 1970s, said the city isn’t changing its vision but taking one part of the wharf area and developing it.
“This is a great opportunity for the city,” Benton said.”This a win-win for the community.”