And They’ve Scheduled a Facelift!

Palm Bay’s future is looking bright – again. As far as I’m aware, that statement has been made at least three times since the city began. What started out 50 years ago as a bedroom community to the south of Melbourne has evolved into an eclectic and diverse community of over 105,000 people heralding from many cultures. One common attribute that runs deep is the sense of community spirit. Other cities make that statement but few really live up to it. Perhaps it is because we all are from someplace else and we’re creating our own identity in this huge city.

One thing is certain, the residents here feel that they belong and they’ve made this city their own. The diversity is embraced, I might add, with folks moving here from around the globe – from New Jersey to Jamaica – yet no one feels that newcomers are invading because we ourselves invaded many years ago and many of us decided to stay.

Building on the Boom

Palm Bay has had three significant growth spurts since her birth in 1960 and it seemed to happen about every twenty years. In the 1960s, GDC put a stake in the city soil and neighborhoods grew so fast they couldn’t name the streets fast enough – in fact it became a college project for the civil engineering students at Florida Tech; they had one semester to name streets.

One German student apparently named my first neighborhood because each street was the name of a German town. And in true German fashion, this kid even mapped the neighborhood out alphabetically – just to keep some order. My first rental here was on Hanau Avenue and I had my first home built on Aachen Avenue, seven streets to the east.

The second boom came about in the 1980s. It was easy to start a business, inexpensive rental homes were in abundance and larger companies were expanding or relocating workers here. Out-of-state space workers discovered they could relocate here and buy twice the home, plus a boat and new cars for a fraction of what it cost in Huntsville or Houston. Brevard grew 40 percent and Palm Bay jumped 237 percent in that decade alone.

Growing in People and Area

Between 2000 and 2010, Palm Bay’s landmass expanded to 90 square miles and her population jumped 29 percent to 103,000 as the city saw opportunities to the west and south and prepared for the estimated quarter of a million residents by 2050. The city fathers still longed for a downtown to call their own and with the ability to use enterprise zone funds, their eyes turned to the Bayfront Redevelopment area running along U.S. Hwy 1.

With a phenomenal unobstructed view of the Indian River to the east, the Turkey Creek overpass on U.S. Hwy 1 appeared to be a perfect venue for a mixed-use development with sidewalks, street lighting, residential and shopping. With the new parkway going in to the south in Micco and I-95, Emerald City’s vision took a foothold and, once again, excitement was in the air for our future.

Looking Ahead

So what exactly does the next twenty years hold? What can we expect just from the addition of Harris’ $100M research facility that is replacing the 30-50-year-old buildings on the south side of Palm Bay Road? That, my friends, will be the beginning of a facelift that Palm Bay has never seen. It will transform everything east of Babcock on that street then move south to meet up with Emerald City, where it will bring a wealth of opportunities, building new and renovating existing structures. That equates to more jobs, more money and new expansions.

And right on cue, the landscapers, contractors and those seeking economic opportunities will converge on Palm Bay again, just as they have every twenty years since the beginning, to reap the rewards of our growth. And we will welcome them just as we have in the past. No one has ever arrived here to an invisible “Do Not Enter” sign. Palm Bay is a trailblazer’s dream and that’s ok with us. Only the skittish leave; the courageous ones stay and make it home and help pave the way to the next boom.

Victoria Northrup is the president and CEO of the Greater Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce.