Photography by Snapjones Photography
The heart of Palm City will beat louder than it has in its 108-year history when the Mapp Road Towncenter Project gets underway this month.
The renovation, redevelopment, and revitalization of a one-mile stretch of the street aims to create a cohesive, connected corridor that resonates with residents.
“That’s our vision, and that’s the vision of the community as well,” says Susan Kores, manager of the Martin County Office of Community Development. “This is going to be, in my mind, a complete game changer for Palm City.”
Plans—15 years in the making—call for a mix of restaurants and retail to rise alongside pedestrian pathways and generous green spaces.
“That’s what’s going to entice people to walk around and mingle with each another,” Kores says. “We’ve already gotten some interest from developers and attracted some new investment.”
Property sales have spiked, as have submissions of applications to build. An ice-cream shop called Shark Shack Sweets opened a few months ago.
A quaint town square that provides a passive area to sit with friends, walk with children, or sip a cup of coffee is also in the works.
“It’s really more a feel,” Kores says. “It’s going to feel like a town. It’s going to feel like this is the center of where I live. It will be a little bit of a destination.”
The design of the second phase of the project has been completed and approved, and the work has been put out to bid. It will take at least one year from start to finish.
The first phase of the project spanned 2017-2018 and involved improvements to the infrastructure including fresh curbs and gutters, wider sidewalks, and room for bicycle lanes. In addition, a stormwater-treatment pond was created to reduce the all-too-common flooding problem and serve as an outdoor amenity.
“People are happy about it,” Kores says. She adds that while it’s rare to have a project everyone is behind, this one addresses some key concerns and seems to have excited a majority of the community. “We are extremely lucky to be able to put this vision to work.”
It’s really more a feel,” Kores says. “It’s going to feel like a town. It’s going to feel like this is the center of where I live. It will be a little bit of a destination.”
County Commissioner Ed Ciampi says the money—basically deferred property-tax revenue from the 610-acre Community Redevelopment Agency plat within the Palm City boundary—will be well-spent.
“I ran again in 2016 to see the project brought back to life and moved forward,” says Ciampi, who originally served from 2008-2012 but choose not to seek reelection in the aftermath of the recession. “Day one, I reinstituted the CRA.”
Between 2012-2016, amid economic uncertainty, the then-County Commission shelved the project and went ahead with others, most notably including the construction of the Veterans Memorial Bridge.
“I had my own frustration when hearing about all of the wonderful plans that never came to fruition—not for lack of trying,” Ciampi says. “You have to have all of these things come together—community support, political willingness, and financial feasibility. All of them aligned when I was back at the dais.”
An advocate for the aesthetics of the area, he is working with the Rotary Club of Stuart-Sunrise on the planting of a butterfly garden and local artist Geoffrey Smith on the installation of a bronze sculpture. The commissioner also envisions wrapping traffic-light-control boxes in photographs of Florida birds.
“There are three or four on Mapp Road,” Ciampi says. “It’s just one of the small things that’s bringing some art to our community. It’s a nice little piece of the puzzle.
“We haven’t had, for a long time, a true heart of Palm City, and I think this revitalization of Mapp Road will bring us much closer to that goal,” he continues. “For the older folks who have lived here, it’s going to be worth the wait. For the folks who have come here recently, it’s going to be exciting.”
Dr. Rex Sentell, owner of Palm City Animal Medical Center, has been a proponent of the project since the beginning.
“It’s going to disrupt my business, but it’s going to help it a lot,” Sentell says. “People have been waiting for this for a long time, not just the people in the redevelopment area, but the people in the neighborhood. I can’t wait for it to happen.”
The veterinarian, whose practice dates to 1981, chairs the Neighborhood Advisory Committee and leads public meetings to obtain input.
“I’ve been in this area for a while, and I’m seeing old Mapp Road really improve,” Sentell says. “I think redeveloping it and making it nice is going to help not only my business but all the businesses.”
His 14,000-square-foot campus complies with the new code of standards in the designated zone: an entrance within five feet of the property line, a walkway leading directly to the building, and parking toward the back. The objective is to set a window-shopping scene of sorts that will be attractive to onlookers.
“I think it’s going to be a focal point for Palm City, a place for people to come and enjoy,” Sentell says. “Redoing Mapp Road is just going to make for a nice downtown feel.”
I’ve been in this area for a while, and I’m seeing old Mapp Road really improve,” Sentell says. “I think redeveloping it and making it nice is going to help not only my business but all the businesses.”
Missi Campbell, executive director of the Palm City Chamber of Commerce, agrees.
“Palm City has a lot to offer, and I think this is going to cap it off,” Campbell says. “It’s going to be really cool.”
She anticipates the staging of events and festivals such as food-truck invasions and green markets on the central strip.
“The excitement level is going to be wonderful,” Campbell says. “It’s going to be like a whole new area. I think it’s going to increase people just hanging out in Palm City.”
Hanging out in Palm City is not unprecedented. There was a time, decades ago, when an earlier generation gathered at Crane Creek Ranch, turning an artesian well into a popular swimming hole.
“All the kids swam in that because there were no swimming pools in the ’50s,” says Boo Lowery, whose late stepfather William “Bill” Matheson owned the property, now Sandhill Cove Retirement Living. “Maybe the Pelican Hotel and the Sunrise Inn in Stuart, but there was nothing in Palm City.”
Matheson settled here in 1940. A large-parcel landowner, he founded several businesses, among them a cattle ranch and a flower farm. Aside from that, a post office, grocery store, feed supplier, and butcher shop were all that comprised Palm City.
“We would go to the big city of Stuart,” Lowery laughs. “It’s big now, but Stuart was little back then. It just seemed big.”
He says he thinks Matheson would approve of the Mapp Road Towncenter Project.
“I think he’d be for it,” Lowery says. “I think he’d like to see it done. He wanted the area to grow.”
Cassandra Bevis, owner and manager of Salon Appearances on Mapp Road, has watched Palm City transform from a retreat for snowbirds to a haven for families.
“We’ve seen so many changes,” says Bevis, who opened her salon in 2000. “I’m hopeful that the new Mapp Road will be a mecca.”
More off-street parking and less on-street speeding will benefit not only her business but dozens of others, she says.
“Right now, you’re driving fast past all these establishments that have been here for so long,” she says. “Sometimes, people come in and say, ‘Oh, my god, we didn’t even notice you were back there.’”
She is looking forward to the project even though it might be a little disruptive.
“What I did as a business owner is send out mass emails to our clients apologizing for delays, but that this is exciting,” she says. “We can’t wait. It’s about time.”