Imagine you are finishing up your degree in Urban and Regional Planning, in this case at the University of Waterloo, just west of Toronto, Canada. Your senior honors essay, roughly the equivalent of a graduate thesis, is on New Towns as an Alternative to Urban Sprawl Development: Viera, FL Case Study. Then, fast forward twenty-four years and you are now the President of the very land development company you wrote about as an undergrad.
Unlikely? The odds of it happening defy reason. Nevertheless, Todd Pokrywa (pronounced pok’-re-va), now leads the company whose vision and approach to land use captured his dreams of what a planned community can and should be.
“From the outset, the community of Viera has been built on a very clear plan and set of values that sees land development holistically,” Pokrywa said. Adding, “It creates a distinctive lifestyle opportunity, the convenience and adaptability needed for quality growth, along with the preservation of an irreplaceable ecosystem. All of which impacts the whole of Brevard County.”
Being virtually at the geographic center of a county that stretches 72 miles, Viera became a logical site for the principle seat of county government, the school system and the justice center. Also, with its proximity to primary traffic corridors, residents can access two international airports, as well as the northern and southern hubs for Brevard’s aerospace industry. The location was providential, but it took some $175 million in contributions to arterial and collector roadway development from The Viera Company, many of which are outside their property, to make it happen.
“Our success causes Brevard to succeed,” Pokrywa observed, “Just like Titusville, Cocoa, Palm Bay and Melbourne’s success facilitates ours.”
In his blood
Most children sharpen their artistic/design skills by drawing images of their favorite cartoon characters, princesses or spaceships. Not Todd Pokrywa: He was drawing grids of city plans, even as a preschooler. “I loved downtown Toronto and was always amazed at how the city grew and evolved,” he said.
What set the course of his future were two of the most influential mentors in his life, a 9th grade geography teacher and a 10th grade geography and urban studies teacher, Doug Struthers and Gord Wright. “In my 10th grade class, an urban planning professor came in as a guest speaker,” Pokrywa recalled. “After listening to his presentation, I knew that was what I wanted to be.” Though he did say he was also pondering the priesthood at the same time.
In Pokrywa’s mind, Florida was the most opportunistic place to be if you were considering a career in land and urban development. He worked for Sunterra Resorts, based in Orlando, which was one of the largest vacation ownership companies in planning and construction at that time. From there he became the vice president of planning for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch (SMR), the developer of Lakewood Ranch, the #2 ranked planned development in the nation, located in southwest Florida.
Rex Jensen, the President of SMR, brought Pokrywa to the community, where he worked for almost 12 years. Through his involvement with the Association of Florida Community Developers, where he served as a chair, he got to know Tracy Duda-Chapman and Steve Johnson, both of which served as leaders of The Viera Company. In 2014, they contacted him, as Johnson saw his retirement on the horizon, and once the decision was made, for Pokrywa, it was like coming home.
A unique attraction
The faith and commitment of the Duda family, along with the patience to develop the community as a multigenerational asset, was a major part of what attracted Pokrywa to Viera. “Because Duda is a private company, they aren’t driven by quarterly earnings and can maintain a vision that builds value over the life of the community’s development,” he said. “Our decisions take long term implications into account as we will live with them for the next 25 years, as Viera is built-out. Plus, Duda will always have a working ranch located here, so the sense of ownership, stewardship and responsibility is very long range.”
As previously stated, what seemed to seal it for him was that Viera started as a blank canvas, utilizing the best planning minds in the country to help develop the community, but it is a process that continues to unfold. Pokrywa realizes how central Viera is to all the communities and businesses in Brevard. Therefore, he spends a great deal of time reaching out to stakeholders in the region and within their community, to collaborate, to listen and to see how Viera can be involved in advancing the greater good.
Recently, he has focused on establishing a commercial development adjacent to the new Viera Blvd. interchange on I-95. Viera abounds with residential options, along with restaurant and retail opportunities, but there are few corporate and office developments, so far. Insightfully planning far ahead, while allowing the market to dictate the developmental pace, has been one of The Viera Company’s hallmarks. A strategic approach that Pokrywa embodies.
This project, along with northern and southern extensions of Lake Andrew Drive toward Viera Blvd and the Pineda interchange, respectively, and another east-west crossover for I-95 near the Lexus dealership, to ease traffic congestion on Wickham Road, are some of many projects currently on his radar.
Now and later
Perhaps it comes from his years of playing hockey in Canada, that Pokrywa is able to exemplify that old Wayne Gretzky saying, “Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.” But of equal importance, he recognizes two other vital factors in winning. One, he cannot skate there alone, it requires a team. And two, doing what you need to do in the present is the only way to ensure your desired future.
The team approach, like most people who developed their leadership paradigm in athletics, comes naturally to him. “I have learned to be patient, to listen to the team and let everyone share their perspectives. That being respectful and encouraging them brings out their best and is the most effective way to get the outcomes you are looking for. I always want to have an open door and open mind, so we are able to work together in addressing challenges and opportunities in real time,” he said.
He is adamant in emphasizing that the most crucial member of his team is his wife Cyndi, who is working on her doctorate in marriage and family counseling. Their daughter Samantha is married to sports broadcaster Taylor Maples and she serves as the head softball coach at Oklahoma Baptist University.
In addition to leading the ongoing development in Viera, Pokrywa somehow finds considerable time to meet with the many parties that are impacted by Viera and impact Viera, that reach all across the Space Coast. Viera works closely with partners, like Brevard Public Schools, throughout the community, so the neighborhood school system can be maintained. They even waive the educational and school facilities impact fee reimbursements for which they are eligible, that help cover infrastructure costs, because they realize how important schools are when parents are making home buying decisions.
“We are one of the major stakeholders in the county and of course part of that is because of our large-scale footprint that is located in the heart of Brevard,” he said. “We are currently tied to the jobs at the Space Center and around the Orlando Melbourne International Airport, so there is a lot of interdependence in Brevard’s future.”
Recently Lynda Weatherman, of the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast, said that the key to job attraction and retention is not just high paying employers. Those employers, and their employees, are looking for a lifestyle that supports and enhances their professional experience. Todd Pokrywa is doing as much as anyone in Brevard to ensure that is happening now and into the future, as far as we can see.