Olivia McKelvey – Treasure Coast Newspapers
FORT PIERCE— A former state representative is spearheading an effort to bring a youth golf course and a new Boys & Girls Club facility to Lincoln Park, a philanthropic effort that has many community members and nonprofits involved.
Larry Lee, who represented District 84, grew up in Lincoln Park and wants to “restore the village.”
Lincoln Park, in northwest Fort Pierce, saw increased crime and gun violence in the ’70s. It has since been facing a raft of social issues that many are trying to turn around.
“I want to erase that stigma,” Lee said.
The vision is a 6-hole golf course with a small turf field for micro-soccer. A two story, 12,000-square-foot building — serving as a multipurpose banquet room and home to a new Boys & Girls Clubhouse — also is planned.
The golf course and clubhouse would be on nearly 7 acres along North 25th Street and Avenue Q.
Lee hopes the project could be completed in about a year and a half.
The Lighthouse Youth Development Center
“The 34950 Zip code is one of the most poverty-stricken Zip codes in Florida,” Lee said. “The goal of this project is to provide educational opportunities for our youth and create a sense of pride in that neighborhood.”
The project, the Lighthouse Youth Development Center, is a part of the “Restore the Village” initiative, a grassroots community movement Lee founded in 2013 to revitalize and restore Lincoln Park.
That initiative is funded by a nonprofit organization Lee also founded, the Lighthouse Foundation.
The Lighthouse Foundation and other donors, across the Treasure Coast and around the country, have raised $565,000 for the project.
About $240,000 helped purchase about 5 acres next to Garden City Elementary School.
Fundraising is ongoing, Lee said, since the clubhouse alone could cost up to $1.5 million.
“This is going to look like an oasis in the middle of a desert when you drive down 25th Street, ” Lee said. “This will not be something that you would normally see in an area like this.”
First Tee — a national nonprofit with chapters on the Treasure Coast, will use the golf course to teach kids life lessons through golf.
“We have a STEM curriculum that is a big hit,” said Anthony Coletta, director of community outreach for First Tee Treasure Coast. “We teach kids about different angles, friction, trajectories and other effects on the golf course.”
The Boys & Girls Club of St. Lucie County would own and operate the 12,000-square-foot building.
The plan is to have teens work and get paid for helping run and maintain the facility as well as offer after-school programs, said Will Armstead, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Lucie County.
“We want to help these kids enter the workforce,” Armstead said. “Another part is just making sure we provide them with support and resources to help give these kids the best life possible.”
This would be the organizations fifth location in Fort Pierce.
Planners, landscapers, developers, nonprofits and local businesses all have come together to make this project happen.
“This is an example of what can happen when we focus on those things that unite us,” Lee said. “When you look at this group, you see people from different races, different political parties all other sorts of different backgrounds coming together. It’s amazing.”
World-renowned golf course architect Jim Fazio and Tod Mowery, a local planner and former St. Lucie County commissioner, are among those donating their services for the project.
“I fully believe in Larry Lee,” Mowery said. “I didn’t hesitate when he told me about the project. His heart is in the right place.”
The school district also supports the project.
The School Board unanimously approved donating an acre of land to the project, according to Marty Sanders, executive director of facilities, maintenance and growth management for St. Lucie County schools.
For some Lincoln Park teens, the project is a needed community resource.
“Having clubhouses and teen-advocacy centers here are valuable because it shows that our voices are important, too,” said Mia Morrison, a 15-year-old who attends the Boys & Girls Club Fort Pierce Teen Center at Percy Peek. “
Morrison and Essence Thompson — a fellow teen who goes to the Fort Pierce Teen Center— said they’re extremely happy about the project and look forward to being able to work at the new clubhouse.
Olivia McKelvey is TCPalm’s watchdog reporter for St. Lucie County. You can reach her at email@example.com, 772-521-4380 and on Twitter @olivia_mckelvey.