Tale of retail: Port St. Lucie’s looking for more of it

“Port St. Lucie is very under-retailed.”

That was the frank assessment given to the Port St. City Council on June 18 by Clay Craft, retail development director of Retail Strategies.

The company was hired by the council in December, tasked with producing a report about the city’s retail-expansion prospects, and to represent the city in enticing new businesses.

After the company presented its report, the council gave it the nod to reach out to retailers. The council will reconsider the contract in December.

The meeting, coincidently, came days after the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity released its employment report for May. St. Lucie’s unemployment edged up slightly from April to May, from 4.1 percent not seasonally adjusted to 4.2 percent. However, employment remains stronger than in 2017. In May last year, the county’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was 4.9 percent.

The Port St. Lucie Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of St. Lucie and Martin counties, gained jobs in most nonagricultural employment sectors from May 2017 to May 2018, including retail trade. In May 2017, about 21,400 were employed in retail in the two counties. This increased by 500 to 21,900 in May of 2018.

Total employment in nonagricultural sectors was about 146,900 in May 2017. That increased by about 2,000 to 148,900 this May. The largest number of job gains was in professional and business services with 600 added jobs, 17,200 to 17,800.

Statewide retail trade picked up about 7,500 jobs from May 2017 to May 2018. About 1.1 million are employed in retail trade in Florida. Retail trade represents about 12.8 percent of the state’s nonagricultural employment. In the St. Lucie MSA, retail trade accounts for about 14.7 percent of nonagricultural employment.

Scott vonCannon, chief operations officer at Retail Strategies, and Craft told the council that Big Lots, Jo-Ann Stores and several restaurant chains were likely retailers that could be attracted to Port St. Lucie. Others that council members are interested in attracting aren’t likely candidates, the pair said. Some on that list include Nordstrom, Ikea and several restaurant chains, such as the Cheesecake Factory.

Of special interest to the council is Costco Wholesale. The city has been interested in enticing Costco, a large membership seller, since it announced plans to build in Palm City almost four years ago. Many in Palm City revolted against the proposed store and the company dropped that plan, but continued to scout for Martin County locations. The City Council repeatedly directed staff to reach out to Costco to get it looking at Port St. Lucie. Costco is now proposing a Stuart location.

Mayor Gregory Oravec urged Retail Strategies to focus on two places to tell retailers about. “You’re looking at City Center and Tradition being the low hanging fruit,” he said at the meeting.

Last September the Securities and Exchange Commission gave the greenlight for the sale of about 20 acres at the City Center along U.S. 1 and Walton Road. The properties had been tied up by federal actions against Lily Zhong, a New Zealand developer who purchased the land in 2013 when the former owner went bankrupt. She paid $500,000 and was supposed to also pay backlogged special assessments. The city had taken out about $25 million in bonds to build infrastructure at the 40-acre City Center.  

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