Developer said donated facility had overflow parking during first couple of days
FORT PIERCE – The controversial Indian River kayak launch at the foot of the Citrus Avenue Overpass opened Aug. 9 with little fanfare other than a city-issued press release following weeks of controversy and name-calling over what it actually was and what it would be called.
City Marketing Specialist Joe Sweat penned the release without giving a name or face to one of the colorful local developers behind the creation of the facility but simply referred to the formal initials of his limited liability corporations.
“The City of Fort Pierce is excited to announce the opening of a new public kayak launch located at the intersection of Citrus Avenue and Indian River Drive in Downtown Fort Pierce,” he wrote. “Fort Pierce visitors and residents now have a new access point to enjoy the tranquility of the Indian River Lagoon. This project was made possible by the generous contributions of TA1, LLC and TMH, LLC, as part of their overall development plan for the adjacent River Palms Luxury Condominium Community.”
One of the principles of the corporation that funded the $500,000 facility in exchange for a needed right of way to build the condos, Fort Pierce business owner and developer Rick Reed, wrote to the Hometown News Aug. 11, complaining about the lack of an official grand opening by the city, which he insisted he was promised by City Manager Nick Mimms.
“Mr. Mimms and I agreed that we would go to the park and have a simple but appropriate opening with he, senior staff, the public and press, and this opening would be noticed to the public beforehand,” he said. “I received the same notice the press did concerning the opening –after the fact – and also a two-line email from Mimms. I called Mimms several times regarding the opening and he never returned my call. However, I am glad the park is not being held hostage any more by the mayor and the public is now able to enjoy the amenities.”
With his reference to Mayor Linda Hudson, the developer referred to her last-minute concerns about what she feared were strong currents in the area of the new facility and what he believed was her intention to try and shipwreck the new kayak launch at the 11th hour.
“I take it you have talked Mayor Hudson out of the necessity of relocating the Kayak Park and you will provide the proper notice to the public regarding the strong currents that Mayor Hudson believes exist at that location,” he said in an Aug. 9 email to Mr. Mimms.
Mayor Linda Hudson denied wanting to relocate the launch and carefully choose her words in an email Aug. 12, intentionally avoiding the use of both kayak launch and park to describe the new facility.
“I did not suggest relocating anything,” she said. “I did visit the right of way and noted that it is indeed an improved right of way, paved, with parking spaces, and includes a boardwalk access to the river. In order to develop the adjacent property, the developer was required to make improvements. Those improvements were signed off on last week and the development can proceed.”
The mayor also explained her concern of utilizing this particular spot for launching kayaks.
“Citrus Avenue now is an improved right of way, with river access,” she emphasized. “A member of the public (In public comment) who frequently kayaks noted the nature of the currents at that spot. Others shared the switch-back nature of the access may be problematic. Since there is no definition, I’m told, of what constitutes a kayak launch, the access can be used for that and other purposes.”
The majority of the City Commission including the mayor have struggled with what to label the facility since refusing to name it after late healthcare activist Sylvie Kramer-Marceau July 15 and tabling the decision until further notice. Mr. Reed, a friend of Ms. Kramer-Marceau, was one of only two respondents to the city’s formal request for naming nominations on the kayak launch. The issue first came to light during the July 8 Conference Agenda, which ended in a stalemate between Commissioners Rufus Alexander and Reginald Sessions who supported his nomination and the mayor and Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson, who opposed it. The latter based his opposition on the short time given for the public to respond to the initial naming request and the fact the land itself had not been officially designated a park. For her part, Mayor Hudson insisted Ms. Kramer-Marceau deserved something more suitable for honoring her successful efforts in lowering the St. Lucie County infant morbidity rate.
“That is my position, plain and clear – she’s much more important than a kayak park,” she said July 15. “I feel like a kayak park would be appropriate for someone who spent a lot of time on the river trying to save the Indian River Lagoon and making us all enjoy our natural outdoors.”
All the members of the public speaking that night, however disagreed with her position, including Arlease Hall, the public information officer for the Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie, and Angelo Otero, a self-professed friend of both city officials and Mr. Reed.
“He’s not naming it after himself, he’s naming it after a great philanthropist that a lot of people owe in this city, especially children,” the latter said. “She deserves more, but for now, this park is all we have – please give it to her. Let this be the beginning of better understanding.”
During the same meeting, Commissioner Sessions challenged Commissioner Johnson’s suggestion that the public had not been given enough advance notice for submitting nominations for names of the kayak launch.
“I’ve never seen this many people in City Hall for purposes of naming a park or naming anything else, so I think the word got out in terms of the community having opportunity to be vocal,” he said.
The July 15 discussion ended with a motion made by Commissioner Sessions to name the kayak launch after the activist that was seconded by Commissioner Alexander and failed 2-3, with Mayor Hudson, Commissioner Johnson and Commissioner Thomas Perona – who’d been absent for the previous Conference Agenda discussion – dissenting. Mr. Mimms said afterward he would bring the Commission a resolution Aug. 5 on designating the kayak launch a city park for their review. He confirmed via email Aug. 12 that it had been on the agenda that evening until City Attorney Pete Sweeney pulled it for discussion purposes during commissioner comments. He also insists he made Mr. Reed no concrete promises of a grand opening for his donated kayak launch.
“I personally did not promise Mr. Reed any specific type of celebration, ceremony, notification, or event,” he said. “The City of Fort Pierce distributed a very uplifting press release that highlighted the new recreational improvement and noted the contributions of the adjacent developer that made the project possible.”
The kayak launch-naming controversy may have even led to a lawsuit. A couple of weeks after the failed vote, Mr. Reed filed suit against Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson alleging the latter had violated his First Amendment Rights by blocking the developer’s responses to the commissioner’s Twitter account.