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Youth Sailing seen tacking toward a Riverside site


Vero Beach Mayor Harry Howle said last weekend that he believes “there’s no real chance” the City Council will approve the construction of a community sailing center on the lagoon-front property currently occupied by the municipal power plant, adjacent to the 17th Street Bridge.

“From a sailing standpoint, that’s probably the best location, but the City Council is charged with doing what we believe is in the best interests of the city,” Howle said. “And the fact is, that’s a prime piece of property.

“It’s too valuable for that use, or even a park,” he added. “We have a rare opportunity to replace an industrial area with something that could be wonderful for the city and residents of our community.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re not going to put the sailing center there.”

Howle was doubling down on his remarks to representatives of the Youth Sailing Foundation at the May 1 City Council meeting, where he said any plan for the group to build on the power plant site was “kaput.”

Instead, the council voted 4-0 to further consider leasing city-owned land to the YSF at one of two alternative sites across the lagoon in Riverside Park, even though those locations would present greater navigational challenges to the group’s sailors.

YSF Executive Director Stu Keiller told the council the group continues to prefer the power plant location, which he called “our Plan A” and “our dream,” but he said the Riverside Park sites would be acceptable.

Keiller said the YSF will study both sites – one is just south of the Riverside Cafe and Fire Rescue Station, the other is south of the tennis courts – and present its findings to the council.

“We will do a detailed feasibility study and site plan,” Keiller said. “Provided the feasibility study yields a positive result, we will come back to you with a specific request to grant us a long-term lease for the land to build the Vero Beach Community Sailing Center.”

The sailing center would be anchored by a 10,000-square-foot building and include ramps, floating docks and parking designed to provide easier public access to the lagoon for smaller watercraft, such as Opti sailboats, kayaks and paddleboards.

The two-story building would serve as the YSF’s headquarters and provide classrooms, storage and maintenance areas. The center also would be available to other boating interests, such as the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Vero Beach Power Squadron and the Vero Beach Lifeguard Association.

Under the YSF’s proposal, the group would build the facility, donate it to the city and maintain it using volunteers and private contributions.

Keiller said the YSF wants to “give Vero Beach a wonderful new amenity that would open up the lagoon to hundreds and thousands of people,” adding, “Most of our activity would not be back into the park, but out into the shore. We just need a base to operate from.”

The YSF first approached the council in March 2017, when it presented its initial plan to build a sailing center on the power plant site, where it hoped to create what Keiller called a “maritime recreational park.”

The council’s response was less than enthusiastic, so the YSF returned this past March with its Plan B – to build a sailing center on a “sliver” of the power plant property immediately north of the 17th Street Bridge. The group’s current facility is just south of the bridge.

It was at that meeting that Councilman Val Zudans suggested the YSF consider possible sites at Riverside Park, which the group did before Keiller addressed the council earlier this month.

In the interim, the YSF received two $100,000 donations to “kick start” the building fund, Keiller said, providing the “momentum” the group needs to accelerate its plans for the sailing center.

“This is the right time to move forward on the sailing center,” Keiller said. “If we wait five or 10 years, we may not have the same opportunity again.”

Council members Laura Moss and Lange Sykes also voiced support for building the center at Riverside Park, which is already a recreation hub. Putting it there also preserves the development possibilities at the adjacent power plant and sewer plant properties, which have the long-term potential to be a game-changer for the city.

However, former Vero Beach Mayor Dick Winger opposes building the sailing center at the park, preferring that the YSF’s operations base remain on the lagoon’s western shore by the 17th Street Bridge.

A U.S. Sailing Certified Instructor, Winger said the current location has the deep water necessary for larger sailboats, offers better winds and provides easy access to a large expanse of water that can be sailed from the 17th Street Bridge to The Moorings.

He also warned that sailing under the 17th Street bridge can be “extremely hazardous” for younger sailors, depending on wind direction, intercoastal traffic and tide.

“The YSF would be extremely unwise to go for this proposal from the council,” Winger said, “as it is dangerous and would make getting out on the water extremely cumbersome.”

He also expressed concern about the aesthetics of having a sailing center, particularly the boat storage area, at Riverside Park.

“A sailboat yard is cluttered and unattractive, at best,” Winger said. “It needs to be hidden. Right now, it is under the 17th Street Causeway.”

Howle agreed, saying, “sailboats aren’t pretty when they’re sitting around,” but he was hopeful a new center would have a sizable storage area.

Even if it doesn’t, the council appears to have bigger plans for the power plant property.

“We don’t have a waterfront, like they have in Fort Pierce and Stuart,” Howle said. “I’d like to see us do something there that will become a destination with commercial and recreational offerings.”