Proposed mixed-use community in Florida would swap out golf course for surf park

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Proposed mixed-use community in Florida would swap out golf course for surf park

A young surfer at a British inland surf park similar to the facility proposed for Fort Pierce, Florida. (Nathan Hill-Haimes/Unsplash)

A truth that’s perhaps most obvious from the air: If there’s one type of residential housing development that rules above all others in Florida, it’s the golf course subdivision. But in Fort Pierce, a city of roughly 46,000 residents in St. Lucie County on Florida’s Treasure Coast, one proposed 200-acre community complete with 800 homes along with retail, entertainment, and office space is eschewing the uber-Floridian amenity of the golf course in favor of something radically different: A massive wave pool specifically engineered for surfing.

The $595 million mixed-use development, Willow Lakes Resort Village and Community, is slated to feature the largest such surf park in the United States, with the pool/lagoon itself designed and engineered by Spanish company Wavegarden. Per Treasure Coast digital news outlet TCPalm, surf parks like the one the planned for Willow Lakes can create up to 1,000 waves of varying shapes and sizes per hour and accommodate up to 100 surfers at any given time.

Earlier this week, the Fort Pierce County Commission unanimously approved an initial set of dramatic zoning changes that will enable the Willow Lakes development, with a Surfworks Resort as its crowd-drawing centerpiece, to move forward. A range of local officials and stakeholders have also eagerly endorsed the project, acknowledging the potential economic boon of having an inland surfing destination.

Local surfers and surf shop owners interviewed by TCPalm are also keen on the idea of a simulated surfing park coming to the area. (St. Lucie County already boasts a robust surfing community although Brevard County, located directly to the north, is largely considered ground-zero for surfing in Florida.)

The development site, located on West Midway Road on the outskirts of Fort Pierce, has been owned by project developer Willow Lakes, LLC since 2004.

“The last thing we wanted to do was another golf course community,” Chad Labonte, manager of Willow Lakes, told TCPalm. “This is a game changer.”

Heralded as an “inclusive beach community” (albeit a beach community located several miles inland from the actual Atlantic coastline near Interstate 95 and a Walmart distribution center), the Surfworks Resort website describes Willow Lakes as a “lively, pedestrian-oriented, and healthy environment of inviting public spaces, walkable streets, and authentic neighborhoods in which to live, work, play, and learn.”

The Surfworks site goes on to muse:

“Beyond the Wavegarden Cove, the Village will be comprised of several distinct neighborhoods, knit together by a network of walkable, pedestrian-oriented streets, and navigable flow-ways designed for maximum environmental and recreational purposes The result will be a natural, honest, and inclusive environment where memorable experiences are created daily, and where visitors, residents, and professionals have fun, keep fit, and feel part of a community that shares their passion and respect for surfing, the ocean, others, and our planet.”

The project, planned by Bohler Engineering, will be built out in multiple phases with the Wavegarden surf park and accompanying facilities like eateries debuting as part of the $40 million first phase. A 150-room hotel could also potentially be included in the first phase per TCPalm. Once open, the Surfworks Resort is expected to create 139 new jobs and $15.6 million in economic impact annually per St. Lucie County’s Economic Development Council. The larger development is anticipated to create 3,400 jobs during its construction phases.

Provided that the permitting process goes swimmingly, construction work could begin as soon as mid to late 2021. Once the surf park/resort element is up and making waves both literal and figurative, subsequent phases centered around the construction of residential and commercial sections of Willow Lakes will commence.