Category Archives: communities

A Community’s Legacy

There’s no better reward from real estate development than feeling that one has been involved in creating a legacy; something which is for the greater good and that will provide for decades, rather than years. Many of us at the St. Joe Company were privileged to plan and participate in several legacy projects and one of those has recently come to fruition.

Earlier this month, the citizens of Port St. Joe, Florida and its surrounding communities celebrated the opening of the Sacred Heart Hospital On The Gulf, built by Ascension Health with money and land gifted to it by the St Joe Company.  While the Company’s contribution was crucial, the financial and emotional support of the local community and the leadership of its politicians were essential in completing the project.

When my family and I arrived in Gulf County in 2000, Port St Joe’s small, privately-managed rural hospital seemed on its last legs.  The care of its doctors, nurses and technicians was unimpeachable but the building in which they practiced was outdated and in poor condition. Emergency services were offered when finances allowed.  The only consistent sources of emergency treatment were the local paramedics who operated the town’s ambulance service or the large regional hospital almost an hour away.

The response of the St. Joe Company, the largest local landowner and a public company with ambitions to develop it’s beach front property, was to assume a leadership role in improving local health care.  The existing hospital was obsolete, its finances murky and its services insufficient to meet the basic needs of the town’s residents and growing number of visitors.  The St Joe Company, with enlightened self-interest, deemed a new, properly managed hospital to be the only realistic alternative.

Some local people disagreed, hoping that a band aid would be enough to keep the old hospital open.  Various ‘white knights’ arrived in Port St Joe, ready to save the hospital from closure by offering dubious financial remedies that inevitably required considerable additional cash injections from the local tax-payers.  As a St Joe Company executive, I witnessed at first hand the unseemly and exploitative side of Florida’s rural healthcare industry as the ‘white knights’ quickly turned out to be sharks preying on the hopes and fears of the local community.

Many in the community realized that an alliance with the St Joe Company and Ascension Health, while contraversial, could provide a realistic alternative to the hucksters. A group of community leaders was assembled, a bus was hired and we all made the trip to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Walton County, ninety or so miles away. The visit was enlightening, emotional and above all, unifying as we toured the facility and listened carefully as doctors and nurses talked about the benefits of high quality, consistent health care delivered in a special place.

That trip took place about five years ago.  Much effort has been expended and patience stretched in the intervening years but earlier this month our journey to Walton County yielded more than any of us on the bus could have dared wish for; a brand new hospital for Port St Joe and its surrounding communities, high-skilled rewarding jobs that are attracting back former residents and the individual satisfaction of having helped create a legacy for later generations.

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From Port St. Joe to Vancouver: Flags and Feelings

Port St. Joe, Florida (pop. 4,750) overlooks the Gulf of Mexico and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Vancouver, British Columbia is consistently voted one of the world’s most livable places and is the host of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. What could these two cities possibly have in common?

Vancouver has been immersed in its Olympics, the culmination of several years of intricate planning and substantial expenditure.  The tension and expectation building amongst organizers and, in more recent months, the community as a whole, was released in spectacular and emotional fashion at the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

It took over 30 minutes for the 3,500-strong school choir to take their place in front of the O-zone stage

I recorded the event because, on the same evening, I was with Gabriel, my 12-year old son, visiting the Richmond O-zone, a community gathering place in a city that is part of greater Vancouver but has a proud character of its own.  Richmond’s civic center is surrounded by an impressive 100-acre indoor/outdoor recreational complex that  had been converted into a series of spaces celebrating the Games.

A giant screen was erected to provide O-zone visitors with a ‘live feed’ to the Opening Ceremony later in the evening.  In the meantime, the Richmond organizers had the brilliant – if somewhat ambitious – idea of assembling its entire school district to form a 3,500-strong pupils’ choir.  If every child brought with them two or three close relatives, that would ensure an audience of at least 7,000.  In fact, it felt as though at least 15,000 people attended the event.

The Olympic Opening Ceremony, piped live to the Richmond O-zone.

And this is how Vancouver 2010 suddenly took me back to Port St. Joe. Richmond’s O-zone was energized by a palpable sense of family and the accompanying emotional charge of a diverse assembly of kids, teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  The Olympics was the perfect catalyst for families to come together and celebrate their kids’ endeavor. I had seen it happen many times in the little town of Port St. Joe, at street parades,  community events and under the Friday night lights of the High School football game. This was the first such truly community-wide coming-together that I had experienced since arriving in Canada in 2007.

The Games provided the excuse, as well as the electricity.  Everyone at the Richmond O-zone seemed to feel connected to what was about to happen at the Opening Ceremony a few miles away in downtown Vancouver.  Richmond’s kids started their concert with the national anthem, Oh Canada!  It’s a stirring song with a powerful melody and I welcomed the opportunity to take-in the atmosphere. As I turned around I saw something that has come to epitomize these Games;  pride in what Canada stands for and the importance of the national flag – emotions that, once again, took me back to Port St. Joe.   Behind me had been sitting a group of elderly Punjabi women, dressed for the weather but unmistakable in their traditional clothing.  Now they were standing, hands on heart, stretching between them a full-size Canadian flag.

Flying the flag in 2001, at the St Joe/Arvida office in Port St Joe

I recalled, very clearly, eight and a half years ago, walking down Reid Avenue, Port St Joe’s main street, and seeing a large, folded American flag in the display cabinet of the local auction room. I bought the flag and immediately hung it on the front of the St Joe office where  I worked; a visceral response to the previous day’s terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Throughout our little town, others did likewise. And now here, in Vancouver, in entirely different circumstances, people were finding flags and waving them, some without thought, others as important symbols in which they had vested a new – or renewed – pride.

Everyone in town knows a kid in the Homecoming Parade.

Kids; the flag and what it stands for; singing; coming together as a community; these are  what little Port St Joe and big city Vancouver have in common. It may take an Olympic Games in a place the size of Vancouver and not much more than the Homecoming Parade in a town like Port St Joe, but the emotions generated are heartfelt and welcome and, for me, link these places across thousands of miles.