Chauncelor Howell In The News
Fort Pierce picks Audubon Development over Virgin Trains for hotel project at H.D. King
Now, the city will begin negotiations with Audubon in order to bring the grandiose concept to reality. There is no deadline for completion of those talks.
“It’s a great and exciting time for the city of Fort Pierce,” Commissioner Tom Perona said after the City Commission — which meets as the Redevelopment Agency on downtown-development projects — picked Audubon’s proposal.
Audubon Development’s project, named King’s Landing, would include a 120-bed Marriott hotel; 60 condo units; eight single-family homes; 40,000 square feet of retail space; 14,000 square feet of restaurant space; a banquet hall; pedestrian walkway; train-station platform; and 300 parking spaces.
The company wants Fort Pierce to donate the 7-acre site between Indian River Drive and Second Street and provide $200,000 a year in tax credits.
“The Audubon project provides an opportunity for the city of Fort Pierce to flourish,” Perona said.
Virgin Trains USA had proposed a train station; a five-story, 100-bed hotel facing Second Street; a five-story condo complex facing Indian River Drive; and retail along A.E. Backus Avenue.
A parking lot would have been between the hotel and the condo complex. The project also would have used the City Hall parking garage on Avenue A and U.S. 1.
Even if Fort Pierce had selected Virgin Trains to build as its developer of the H.D. King site, there was no guarantee a train station would be built here, train officials said. Virgin also is considering building a station in Stuart
Virgin officials had said the earliest construction could start on a Fort Pierce station would be 2024, after completing extension of passenger-rail service from West Palm Beach to Orlando International Airport.
“It’s prom time, and sitting before you, you have a date ready to go,” former City Commissioner Eddie Becht said. “And over here you have a date who says, ‘Maybe 2024.'”
Resident Chauncelor Howell, the only person to speak at the meeting in support of Virgin Trains, said the rail company has a proven record of improving areas where it has built a train station.
“You can drive down to West Palm, to Fort Lauderdale and Miami and see what they are doing,” Howell said.
The Fort Pierce Community Alliance said Thursday “neither of the proposals, as preliminarily presented, would be good for Fort Pierce.” The alliance, which comprises 15 business owners and residents, wrote on its website that Virgin’s plans are “out of scale, insufficiently integrated into the existing fabric and do not create a great public realm.”
The city evaluated the two proposals based on their preliminary development plan; acquisition and financing plans; economic feasibility; schedule; qualifications; preliminary traffic assessment; meeting community redevelopment goals.
A consultant ranked Audubon Development twice as high as Virgin Train USA.
For the past decade, Fort Pierce has attempted to redevelop the site of the former city power plant into a mixed-use project with residential, retail, dining, a hotel and parking to revitalize downtown.
The power plant was demolished in 2008 and the city and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority spent more than $4.2 million cleaning up 34,000 tons of soil contaminated with toxic chemicals.
Environmental cleanup has been completed, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Last year, the City Commission rejected two proposals — from Vero Beach developer Keith Kite of Kite Properties and RMA of Pompano Beach — saying it was unimpressed with both projects.
In 2014, a St. Petersburg group dropped its plan to build a hotel, 300 apartments, 55 townhouses and a four-story parking garage after opponents said it was out of character for downtown. The company had offered $2 million for the land.
In 2010, a South Florida developer scrapped a $90 million plan to build Atocha Village — shops, restaurants, homes and a hotel — after discovering the property would revert to the state if it was sold.