$595M surfing center and village with 800 homes, thousands of jobs may come to Fort Pierce

Joshua Solomon Treasure Coast NewspapersPublished 11:25 AM EDT Sep 22, 2020FORT PIERCE — The nation’s largest

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FORT PIERCE — The nation’s largest “WaveGarden,” a simulated surfing park, is slated to come to Midway Road as a part of a 200-acre community development. 

It is to feature 800 residential homes, 600 hotel rooms, 400,000 square-feet of retail space, 125,000 of office space and thousands of potential jobs. 

The new "Willow Lakes" village is expected to cost $595 million in new construction, according to the developers, and the first phase of building could begin in the third quarter of 2021, depending on permitting and approvals. 

The first phase, to run $40 million, would feature the WaveGarden and food and beverage facilities. It may also include a 150-room hotel, according to the project manager. The surfing center itself, "Surfworks Resorts" is expected to create 139 jobs and $15.6 million economic impact annually, according to a study by the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County.

The project is expected to create about 3,400 jobs during construction and nearly 1,900 jobs annually, according to the Economic Development Council.

City commissioners unanimously approved a first set of sweeping zoning changes to begin to clear the way for the Willow Lakes development, which is near Interstate 95.

“This is probably one of the biggest things that could happen to us,” Commissioner Thomas Perona said. 

The developers have owned the land at 10050 West Midway Road since 2004. They were looking for a “destination” project, but were slowed down by the Great Recession. They found something they liked with the WaveGarden, Willow Lakes Manager Chad Labonte said. 

“The last thing we wanted to do was another golf course community,” Labonte said. “This is a game changer.”

There are a handful of WaveGardens around the world, but dozens in the development stage, Labonte said. This would be the largest. A similar Surfworks Resorts is planned in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The facility features a massive swimming pool-like area that creates up to 1,000 waves an hour and around 100 surfers at any moment, according to a promotional video the developers showed. Waves are of varying shapes and for a range of expertise. 

“It will attract people from Fort Pierce, across the country and around the world,” W. Lee Dobbins, attorney for the Fort Pierce firm Dean, Mead, Minton, Zwemer, said. 

The bold proposition is expected to generate $8.7 million in impact fees, not including the WaveGarden itself and a proposed TopGolf, according to city documents. 

Willow Lakes is designed to be its own community.

Projects range on the number of homes that will be built, which is in part dependent on how dense the city allows for the developer to build. City documents submitted by the developer suggest up to 1,000 residential buildings, 700 of them are to be multi-family homes, 150 single-family townhouses and 150 single-family detached homes.

The project has gone through traffic studies, engineering reviews and environmental concerns. 

“It’s really planned as a whole new coastal community, which is several miles away from the coast,” Dobbins said. “It’s planned around a WaveGarden.”

Commissioners offered glowing endorsements of the plan, excited for a developer building a unique project in Fort Pierce. 

Backing the project was Pete Tesch, president of the St. Lucie County Economic Development Council. He suggested it would be a big economic boon for the local economy. 

"Willow Lakes and the surf park project in our view is a catalytic economic development event which has the ability to 'move the needle' on our collective efforts to enhance Fort Pierce’s reputation as a premier tourist destination and further diversify our growing economy," Tesch wrote in an endorsement letter to the commission. "As we enter the 'new normal' and the post COVID-19 environment, this important project will have a historically significant impact on our community."

Joshua Solomon is a politics reporter covering the Treasure Coast. You can reach him at 772-692-8935 or joshua.solomon@tcpalm.com. 

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