For Immediate Release
Monday, September 11, 2023
Contact: Mark Ard
Secretary Byrd Designates Main Street Fort Pierce as the Florida Main Street Program of the Month
Tallahassee, Fla. –
Today, Secretary of State Cord Byrd announced that Main Street Fort Pierce in St. Lucie County, Florida, has been designated the September 2023 Florida Main Street Program of the Month.
“It is my honor to acknowledge Main Street Fort Pierce as the Florida Main Street Program of the Month,” said Secretary Byrd. “Having been a part of the Florida Main Street program from 35 years, Main Street Fort Pierce continues to set a wonderful standard not only for communities in the southeast region, but for communities across the state.”
The Sunrise Theatre, photo courtesy of Main Street Fort Pierce
Fort Pierce is one of the earliest established American communities on the southeast coast of Florida. The first residents of the area around Fort Pierce were Native people known to Europeans as the Ais culture. Old Fort Park, located north of downtown, contains evidence of these Native peoples. The city was named after the Army post built north of downtown in 1838 on the site of the Ais village site. The military post was named for Benjamin Kendrick Pierce, a career United States Army officer, and the brother of President Franklin Pierce. Completion of Henry Flagler’s railway in 1894 gave rise to commerce that would make the city the economic hub of the Treasure Coast. The main industries were fishing, cattle, pineapples, vegetables, and citrus. Fort Pierce was officially designated a city in 1901. Flagler’s railroad attracted tourism and development in the southern half of the state, as well as a vibrant arts and culture scene. Famous painters, like A.E. “Beanie” Backus, Alfred Hair, and a small group of Black American painters known as the Florida Highwaymen, were born and raised in
Fort Pierce. Fort Pierce is also the final resting place of renowned writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.
With a population of around 48,000 citizens, Fort Pierce is a diverse city located directly on the Indian River adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. By 1980, with the introduction of mall shopping, downtown Fort Pierce businesses and their historic theatre were shuttered. In 1988, Fort Pierce became a Florida Main Street community, using the National Main Street Four-Point Approach to resurrect historic downtown Fort Pierce.
Since its designation, Main Street Fort Pierce has hosted events drawing thousands of visitors and has become a booming downtown business incubator. Completed restoration projects include the 1923 Old City Hall building and the 1895 Platts/Backus House, which now houses the offices of Main Street Fort Pierce. Perhaps the most significant project was the renovation of the historic Sunrise Theatre. Once a vaudeville theatre that transformed into a motion picture venue, the Sunrise Theatre opened in 1923 and was the largest theatre in the area. Fort Pierce resident Edwin Binney, co-founder of Crayola Crayons, used his relationship with a local bank to save it from failure during the Great Depression, but the theatre eventually fell into disrepair. Main Street Fort Pierce purchased the building in 1997 and began renovation on the theatre soon after, eventually purchasing the entire property in 1999. The project received over $13 million total in grants and private donations, including grants from the Florida Division of Historical Resources, to facilitate the theatre reopening in January 2006. Main Street Fort Pierce donated the theatre to the City of Fort Pierce, which has taken over daily operations.
"I have spent the last 32 years with Main Street Fort Pierce and have loved every minute of being involved with our city's redevelopment,” said Main Street Fort Pierce Executive Director Doris Tillman. “Downtown Fort Pierce is a natural environment where you can hop off a boat, go into a top art gallery, see a performance, and have a delicious meal. Our downtown works well together, and it shows.”
About Florida Main Street
Florida Main Street is a program administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, which currently oversees 56 communities throughout the state. By implementing the National Main Street Center’s Four-Point Approach, Florida Main Street encourages economic development within the context of historic preservation through the revitalization of Florida’s downtowns – the community’s heart and soul.