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Youth Sailing boathouse vital part of Centennial Place

Photo: Artist’s rendering of boathouse for Youth Sailing Foundation that would be part of Centennial Place.

Things got tense last week when the committee charged with overseeing Vero’s Centennial Place project initially decided a new $2.5-million headquarters and boathouse for the Youth Sailing Foundation should be pushed out of the main development area and built south of the 17th Street bridge on the site of the wastewater plant.

That consensus provoked an emotional response from architect Andre Duany, whose firm DPZ CoDesign was hired by the city to come up with a redevelopment design for the project on Indian River Boulevard, which includes the site of the shuttered “Big Blue” power plant and the city sewer plant.

Duany, whose widely-praised mixed-use plan was presented to the city last month, had placed the Youth Sailing headquarters on the existing harbor behind the power plant, in the midst of restaurants, shops, a marina and other features.

He told the committee the Youth Sailing facility is a vital part of the plan because it would bring people to the site continuously.

“They’re constantly there at all hours every day, so that’s the center,” Duany said of the youth sailing sailors and instructors. “Everything else is sporadic, but they’re there permanently. They would be the anchor of vitality ... they also need the harbor and if they are on the south, they can’t use the harbor.”

Youth Sailing Foundation executive director Stu Keiller told the committee that locating the two-story facility with floating docks and storage on the south side of the bridge would deter potential donors because of the smell from the neighboring wastewater treatment facility, and because access to the water is obscured by mangroves.

In addition, he said fundraising momentum could slow since the city plans to continue operating the wastewater plant for the next five years, blocking redevelopment of that area until at least 2025.

“If we had a commitment from the city to build on the north side, it would help us continue the ark of growth, get the building built and continue on,” Keiller said. “If that doesn’t come to fruition, I think there are all kinds of issues that would have to be resolved, not the least of which is the wastewater treatment plant really needs to be out of here before we can build a building. It may have to be out of here before we can raise the money.”

The foundation has outgrown its current site on 17th street, which serves 300 young sailors. Keiller expects the number of participants to double or triple with a new headquarters.

But Committee Chair Vicky Gould expressed concern that if Youth Sailing’s headquarters was placed on the harbor on the north side of the bridge, its operations would interfere with large boats turning in from the Intracoastal Waterway to dock at the riverfront site to shop or dine.

“I support the Youth Sailing Foundation so much, but the little area where they want to put the boats in is the only deepwater area there is,” she said.

Committee members also said a money-making enterprise would be better in the proposed boathouse location and voiced concern for the safety of young sailors floating past powerboats.

Moving the headquarters to the south side of the bridge “would eliminate the potential of a conflict of the motorboats in the port and the youth sailing,” Mayor Tony Young added.

But Keiller dismissed the safety concerns, saying there has never been an incident locally involving sailors and motorboats, which frequently mingle on the lagoon.

In the end, Duany’s and Keiller’s impassioned pushback prompted the committee to reconsider its decision and invite Keiller back to a future committee meeting to revisit the matter – leaving the popular sailing nonprofit’s future at the site in limbo for the time being.

Duany’s concept integrates restaurants, retail shops, boat docks, a skateboard park, a playground area and lake, a waterfront boardwalk and walking paths, a meeting hall/wedding chapel, and the Youth Sailing Foundation headquarters into a harmonious layout on the north side of the bridge.

His design for the south side of the bridge calls for an upscale camping area, a small canal for launching kayaks, and repurposing the two existing cement tanks into buildings used for arts and entertainment activities. Plenty of green space, surrounded by workforce housing apartments atop commercial space, also are part of his plan

The committee decided to postpone a decision about what will happen on the south side of the bridge for the time being, but it liked all of Duany’s proposals for the north side except for the Youth Sailing Foundation building.

Duany expressed worries the entire plan could fail if elements drawn into his preliminary plan are eliminated.

“I’ve actually not slept over this,” Duany said. “I’ve taken it very seriously. I’m not going to stand here and say you’re doing a good job.”