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Vero seeks development pitches for riverfront project

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of January 21, 2021)

After meeting informally with developers since October, the City of Vero Beach will issue a Request for Qualifications so that anyone hoping to develop portions of the riverfront utility sites frequently referred to as the “Three Corners” can make their pitch.

Different from a Request for Proposals, the applicants will not compete in a bidding process, but should demonstrate the experience, resources and references to show they could credibly tackle developing all or a portion of the 38-acre riverfront parcels.

City Manager Monte Falls also said the project needs a much better name than Three Corners, so hopefully casting for proposals will net a winner.

Vero’s Three Corners Steering Committee has spent the last few months narrowing down what it wants included in the development, working from a version of the master plan designed by consultant Andres Duany of DPZ Co. in June 2020.

Duany scaled down his maximum-development master concept plan somewhat, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the local economy and the hotel industry, as well as on large-group activities and indoor dining and drinking establishments.

Committee members reached a consensus that the site needs to have a “waterfront promenade” to create a destination residents and tourists alike will visit repeatedly. This means mixed uses and fairly intense development, by Vero standards.

“Anyplace with vibrancy has an intensity of use, vibrancy is what we want here,” said Vicky Gould, who chairs the Three Corners Steering Committee.

Elements the committee spoke favorably about wrapping into the project include: recreation, restaurants and retail, an entertainment venue, a hotel and/or cabins, ample parking, and space for various events, from festivals to food trucks to farmers markets.

The focus should definitely be on the unique feature of the river, with boat access, day or overnight slips, possibly a water taxi and a Youth Sailing Association facility for training, competition and the maintenance and storage of boats.

Steering committee members would like to include some sort of public water feature, possibly a wading pool, splash pad or fountain. Cultural opportunities and some sort of Indian River Lagoon educational aspect are other items that got nods from members.

Residential units could be a part of the development, as there’s definitely a demand in the market and that would bring needed revenue into city coffers to fund maintenance of the public areas.

But the committee would prefer moderately priced rental apartments located on the second and third floors above restaurants and shops, with residents living there year-round, as opposed to luxury condominiums in standalone buildings, or single-family detached homes.

Former mayor Harry Howle, who serves on the steering committee, urged everyone to remain open and flexible as the proposals come in, and not get too wedded to particular elements of the plan as drafted. “This board has gotten into the minutiae of what we want,” Howle said.

This spring the committee will review the applications, incorporate the details of proposed elements into the existing concept plan and send a recommended master concept plan to the Vero Beach City Council for a vote this summer.  

The goal is to get a ballot question finalized in August so that it can be sent to Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan to be posed to voters as part of the November municipal election.

The referendum would not ask voters if they wish to sell the parcels, but to lease them long term, perhaps with a 99-year lease, ensuring public access to the riverfront and the amenities developed on the property.

Big Blue is still the big question mark in the plan. City officials hope someone will want to repurpose the historic building into an urban-chic resort and conference center with a rooftop bar taking advantage of the lagoon-to-ocean views.

But after initial meetings with developers, a bit of reality has set in about financing challenges and delays of up to five years until the market is ready for that type of project,

If Big Blue is torn down, Vero and the developer will need to deal with the time and expense of whatever environmental cleanup needs to be done. Falls said about initial studies performed by Florida Power & Light around the power plant and the former substation, “FPL says it looks good. I’m hopeful.”