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Andres Duany kept on to help city finalize riverfront plan

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of April 8, 2021)
Photo: Andrés Duany presents five scenarios to the Three Corners Steering committee Feb. 25, 2020 at City Hall.

The Vero Beach City Council has approved another contract for consulting services with architect and urban planner Andres Duany, who has worked with Vero since 2019 on getting public input and designing the Master Concept Plan for the city’s riverfront redevelopment project.

“Andres will tweak the design and give us a revised Master Concept Plan and we needed the new work order because that wasn’t part of the original job,” said Vero Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries. “We’re calling this the Community Plan and we will show that plan to developers because it reflects what the community wants to see on the site.”

Vero city officials expect to bring an updated conceptual plan for the proposed redevelopment of the riverfront power plant and sewer plant sites to the Vero Beach City Council in May. They will solicit pitches from developers to implement their vision at the same time.

On April 26, prior to that May presentation, the city’s Three Corners Steering Committee will review the in-progress, revised designer’s renderings of the layout and forward its recommendations to the council.

The city canceled the February and March meetings of the Three Corners Steering Committee because the new design is needed before anything else can be done, “but we’re not running behind schedule, I still think we are on track,” Jeffries said regarding getting a referendum on November’s ballot.  That would require having a substantially final plan by August.

The new work order pays Duany $27,000 for two specific tasks, labeled Task 8 and Task 9, encompassing two different master plans – the Community Plan and a plan recommended by DPZ CoDesign – and a final report along with a Powerpoint presentation and media materials that the city can use to educate voters.

If the Three Corners Steering Committee approves Duany’s updated graphical plan and there is a consensus to move forward, the plan would go to the city council for a vote in May.

“The council has said it will handle the decisions about the budget and the financing part after that,” Jeffries said. The new DPZ CoDesign contract slates “Economic feasibility analysis of scenarios” for May-June of this year.

At the same time, city staff is putting together a request for proposals to go out to interested developers. Jeffries said he expects to narrow down the field to two or three developers who have the relevant experience, a compatible vision for the project and the resources to bring it to fruition. 

Several developers who already have met with city officials found financing large projects to be a problem in the pandemic economy and asked if the City of Vero Beach might want to assist with financing somehow.

That concept was not favorably received. The city does not want to be a landlord, or to assume the risk of holding the note on a hotel and entertainment complex.

Regarding the future role of the Three Corners Steering Committee, Jeffries said he’s not sure how involved the volunteer group would be once the plan is approved by the City Council, as the committee’s task is to bring forth a community-backed Master Concept Plan that the council can vote  up or down.

Deciding the final elements to be included, how much to spend on the project out of the $21 million in reserves from the electric sale proceeds, and the wording of the ballot question to be posed to voters is currently considered the elected officials’ responsibility.

But there could be a joint meeting of the council and the steering committee if Mayor Robbie Brackett and his colleagues decide they need the steering committee’s input when developers make their pitches to the city.

City Manager Monte Falls has asked repeatedly for the steering committee or someone involved in the project “to please come up with a name” for the development that is that is much better than “Three Corners,” so hopefully some possible names, along with a new branding strategy will emerge soon.

Jeffries said developers from around Florida and out of state are aware of the project and have been monitoring the city’s planning process.

Jeffries reiterated that it is still the city’s aim for the development to be “revenue neutral,” meaning that whatever funds the city spends on constructing and maintaining recreational facilities or amenities would be offset by income from long-term leases paid by developers of the commercial aspects of the project on city land – such as a hotel and buildings that would house shops, restaurants or residential tenants.

If economically feasible, the steering committee wants the Big Blue power plant building on the north side of the bridge repurposed into a hotel or conference center, and one of the concrete water storage tanks at the sewer plant on the south side of the bridge retained and used in some way. The committee wants the Youth Sailing Association to have a major presence in the development.

The committee wants to see some sort of marine aspect to the project, possibly day-docks or overnight mooring facilities, or a water taxi service with various stops along the riverfront, but there were concerns about building anything that would compete with the Vero Beach Municipal Marina, which is in the early stages of a massive renovation.

Still up in the air is whether the project will include some sort of multifamily residential development, either standalone, detached from the commercial buildings, or perhaps apartments or condos built above businesses, in accordance with Vero’s citywide height restrictions.

The idea behind having residential dwelling as part of the project is twofold. Not only would apartments or condos bring more revenue to the city in lease payments – one estimate cited revenues of $30,000 per unit in payments to the city over the course of a long-term lease – but having people in full-time or seasonal residence within a walking distance to the shops and restaurants would help ensure the success of the businesses located at the Three Corners.

Neighborhood residents would provide the steady foot traffic of regular customers, beyond those who stay at the hotel, or who visit for the day to enjoy the amenities.