The country’s largest simulated surfing park, and a mixed-use development project, are rolling with the tide into Fort Pierce, Florida.

“Willow Lakes,” a 200-acre community development, will include at least 800 residential homes, 600 hotel rooms, 400,000 square feet of retail space and 125,000 square feet of office space.

In total, the project is anticipated to create about 3,400 jobs during the construction phase and about 1,900 jobs annually, according to the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County.

Fort Pierce’s news featured on the Facebook page of surfworks on Tuesday | Facebook

The first phase, which will run $40 million, will feature the WaveGarden (the simulated surfing park), food and beverage facilities, and possibly a 150-room hotel. The surfing center alone, dubbed “Surfworks Resorts,” is anticipated to create 139 jobs and $15.6 million economic impact on an annual basis, according to the Economic Development Council.

Developers anticipate the project to cost $595 million in total, and are currently planning to start construction in the third quarter of 2021, pending the passage of all permits and approvals. The project is expected to produce $8.7 million in impact fees, not including the WaveGarden itself, according to city documents.

Sweeping zoning changes were unanimously approved by city commissioners to make way for Willow Lakes, which will be located on West Midway Road at Interstate 95.

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

Willow Lakes manager Chad Labonte has owned the land on West Midway Road since 2004 and was seeking out what he called a “destination” project, but was halted when the Great Recession hit in 2008. Although there are a few WaveGardens currently operating across the globe (England, Wales and Australia), dozens are also in the development stage. But, Willow Lakes’ would be the largest.

Willow Lakes development project featured on surfwork’s Facebook page | Facebook

“This is a game changer,” Labonte told Treasure Coast News.

The wave pool will create up to 1,000 waves per hour and can accommodate about 100 surfers. Waves of differing shapes and sizes will be created for surfers of all abilities.

The capacity for the amount of housing to be included in the development is still in flux, depending on what the city ultimately allows. However, the developer has suggested up to 1,000 residential buildings with 700 multi-family homes, 150 single-family townhouses and 150 single-family detached homes.

“It’s really planned as a whole new coastal community, which is several miles away from the coast,” Geoff Fitzgerald, land planner for development company Bohler, told Treasure Coast News. “It’s planned around a WaveGarden.”

City officials have high hopes that the project will launch economic growth in the local community.

“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,” Pete Tesch, president of the St. Lucie County Economic Development Council, wrote in an endorsement letter to city commissioners. “As we enter the ‘new normal’ and the post COVID-19 environment, this important project will have a historically significant impact on our community.”

Email Lillian Dickerson

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