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Centennial Place: No word yet on how much this might cost, or where the money would come from


As plans to transform Vero’s defunct power plant and aging sewage treatment plant at the base of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge into a vibrant Centennial Place wow local residents, two key questions remain unanswered.

How much is a riverfront entertainment hub likely to cost?  And where will the money come from to implement the vision?

Miami-based designer Andres Duany has no cost estimate for the build-out of the spectacular concept he presented to the city a couple of weeks ago that would bring shops, restaurants, docks, a boathouse and a hotel to the 35-acre site along with other features. Estimates for how much revenue leasing or selling parts of the property to developers would bring have not yet been calculated, either, Duany added.

“It’s much too early,” he said.

Duany’s concept includes three restaurants; a waterfront boardwalk and walking paths throughout the property, which would contain a small lake; Youth Sailing Foundation headquarters; boat docks; wedding chapel; beach volleyball courts, skateboard park and playground area; and small retail buildings.

The former power plant would be converted into a landmark conference center that would contain a great hall with meeting rooms, as well as a bar and rooftop dining. A 140-room hotel – with lagoon views and a swimming pool – would be built adjacent to the power plant building.

“Duany is known for some very, very wonderful projects, but they’re usually very, very expensive projects and my concern all along has been, how will the project be cost feasible?” County Commissioner Tim Zorc said. “It’s great to have a wonderful plan, but if it’s not financially feasible, that’s a concern.”

The city is hoping to decide on a final plan in early May.

The plan so far is for the city to pay for infrastructure upgrades at and near the property and either lease or sell portions of the land to a developer, or multiple developers, who would build the project in return for revenue from selling or leasing space to shops, restaurants and other users.

If the project is done right, taxpayers would likely only pay for infrastructure improvements, such as stormwater upgrades and maintenance of recreational space at the site.

That design, along with financial details, will then go to voters in November, who will have the power to approve or reject the project.

Vero officials want to ensure any development won’t drain city coffers, City Manager Monte Falls said.

The money for infrastructure improvements could be covered by some of the proceeds from the electric utility sale in 2018, Falls said. The city has more than $20 million remaining in the bank from the $183.3 million deal with Florida Power & Light.

Duany will recommend to the council that county taxpayers also shoulder some of the potential maintenance and other infrastructure costs.

“The site needs to be jointly paid for by the county and the city,” said Duany, who expects the site to be used heavily by county residents.

County Administrator Jason Brown said city officials have not formally asked the county about chipping in to fund the project, but he is not fond of the idea.

“The city needs to fund and maintain city infrastructure,” Brown said.

“It seems that the city has this desire to continue trying to charge county residents for city services for city infrastructure,” Brown added. “I believe that’s a parochial view of providing services. I don’t believe the city should think of county residents as outsiders who are just milking the city’s services. County residents contribute to the city’s economy.”

City officials have not considered a special taxing district for nearby property owners or developer incentives such as tax breaks, they said.

If the City Council doesn’t waver in its decision and sends a clear message it wants the land developed, Duany plans to recruit the best of the best among development companies to create and manage the commercial spaces voters choose to have, he said.

“The politics have to be solved at the level of the council,” Duany said.

“Once we get a decision on what is going to be the final plan for the property, then we’ll look at best implementing that plan and what would be the alternatives we have to choose from,” Falls said. “Right now, we’re still in the process of what the public wants to be built there.”

Selling off the former postal annex site – which is also part of the redevelopment area but lacks a waterfront view – to, say, popular grocer Trader Joe’s could net the city $1 million to $2 million for upkeep of recreational areas of the project, Duany said.

Leasing some areas, such as the Youth Sailing Foundation headquarters and restaurant space, could cover maintenance costs and make financial sense, Duany said, adding he believes leasing most of the land would generate the most revenue.

There is also a scenario where the city could sell part of the land is to a hotelier who would build a hotel and commit to covering the costs to convert Big Blue into a conference center, Duany said.

The Youth Sailing Foundation, for its part, is hoping to lease property on the site to build a permanent headquarters, the foundation’s Executive Director Stu Keiller said.

“Our proposal is to build a $2.5 million world-class sailing center with a 100-year building and then operate it and also have funds available in escrow to maintain it,” Keiller said. “So, we would be turning over a major piece of recreational infrastructure to the city and agreeing to operate it and maintain it.”