FT. PIERCE, FL-By a 3-2 vote, the Ft. Pierce City Commission recently rejected an ordinance that would have required new first-floor tenants in the city’s historic downtown to be either restaurateurs or retailers if their space was adjacent to a sidewalk. Tenants looking for first-floor office space would have needed a conditional-use permit and city commission approval.

Ramon Trias, the city’s development director, says he feels sure the commission will eventually pass the ordinance, with some changes. “Requiring retail tenants on the first floor is a growing trend in Florida cities with historic downtowns,” Trias tells GlobeSt.com. He says at least 22 cities in the state, including West Palm Beach and South Miami, have enacted similar ordinances.

The reason for the ordinance, Trias says, is to try to level the playing field for merchants in revitalized historic downtown areas. He says the area to be covered by the ordinance in Ft. Pierce is a four-block area on the waterfront that was built in the 1920s and consists primarily of two-story buildings. The area was mostly vacant until a couple of years ago, when a revitalization project was begun. But the city has found that retailers who move into the area are at a disadvantage to those in shopping centers because first-floor offices break up retail space and make it less inviting to pedestrian shoppers, especially in the evenings and weekends.

“It is important that retail is around other retail,” Trias says, especially in older areas like this with low buildings. He said newer downtown areas with taller buildings and higher density don’t have the same problem.

Trias says nobody in Ft. Pierce is arguing against the general concept, noting that this was the ordinance’s second reading. At the first reading, the vote was 4-1 in favor. But he said officials prefer not to have regulations and would rather achieve the goal through market forces rather than regulations. “However, we haven’t been successful just relying on market forces,” he says.

Trias says the main objections come from the building owners, who want a long-term lease with a stable client. Offices are usually more stable than retail establishments, he says. “We’ll probably have to come up with some kind of incentive package,” says Trias, who plans to revamp the ordinance and offer it to the city commission again at a later date.

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