It's been two years; time to move Vero Beach's Three Corners plan to next stage? | Opinion

·6 min read

For those anxious to see the three corners Vero Beach owns at 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard become more than just old industrial sites, Tuesday could be a big milestone.

That’s when at 6 p.m. in City Hall council members will be asked to vote on a resolution to accept the latest master plan for the land, seek developers’ interest in the project and set a referendum for November when city voters would be asked to approve the plan.

If you are interested in what happens at the site, plan to be there to express your opinion.

As exciting as the first iteration of the plan was — presented by urban planner Andres Duany Jan. 31, 2020 — the latest rendition massaged by a steering committee also is inspiring.

On the northeast corner, the hope is a developer, likely through a 99-year lease, would dramatically renovate the hulking former power plant — laden with steel beams — into a conference center/great hall and centerpiece of a top-notch hotel.

Read the proposed resolution: Also there's background on accepting the master plan

Read the plan, see designs: Peruse the 207-page plan done by architects, planners

The centerpiece of the Three Corners plan as of Jan. 14, 2022, was a high-quality hotel interconnected with a large area open to the public, including restaurants and retail.
The centerpiece of the Three Corners plan as of Jan. 14, 2022, was a high-quality hotel interconnected with a large area open to the public, including restaurants and retail.

Central Park for Vero Beach

The public could have access to a grand lobby, other amenities and a rooftop restaurant with an unparalleled view of the Indian River Lagoon.

To the east, a “central park” and “waterfront village” — lushly landscaped with native species and full of dining, recreational and marine options and small retail areas — would be open to anyone.

On the southeast side, the sewer plant would be dismantled, yielding room for buildings to house the Youth Sailing Foundation of Indian River County and a marine research facility. Part of the south side would remain empty, while other parts could be used for the performing and visual arts.

The west corner could be used for parking or sold.

The way I see it, council’s affirmative vote Tuesday would move the project into perhaps the top of the fourth inning.

Still ahead: bureaucracy leading to the referendum and all sorts of action regardless of whether it passes. If voters approve the concept, a new council (Mayor Robbie Brackett plans to run for state representative) would oversee selection of a developer and make all sorts of decisions related to the project.

Such decisions would relate to closing the sewer plant, cleaning up the industrial sites, handling potential environmental landmines, reviewing various stages of developer contracts, critiquing development plans and overseeing construction.

All this assumes a relatively robust economy. Anyone who has lived in Florida for a few decades knows development goes in boom, bust cycles. And we’ve been in a long boom.

A new council might also have to deal with issues like those faced in Fort Pierce, which has been trying to redevelop its old power plant downtown, across the street from the lagoon, since 2008. That site has only 7 acres compared to 17 on the power plant site shut down in 2015 in Vero Beach.

More: Can Fort Pierce offer lesson on what to do with Vero power plant site?

The Standing-O plan: Urban planner knocks three corners plan 'out of park'

The centerpiece of the Three Corners plan as of Jan. 14, 2022, was a high-quality hotel interconnected with a large area open to the public, including restaurants and retail.
The centerpiece of the Three Corners plan as of Jan. 14, 2022, was a high-quality hotel interconnected with a large area open to the public, including restaurants and retail.

Fort Pierce faces height controversy

Fort Pierce commissioners, who had to remediate environmental issues on the site, have gone through multiple rounds of developer proposals. Two years after approving an $85 million project of up to eight stories for a hotel, condominiums, restaurants and retail, commissioners recently acquiesced to the developer’s request to increase the maximum height to 11 stories at an investment of $140 million.

Could a developer sweet talk one Vero Beach City Council, get a contract, then come back and change plans?

“Parameters would have to be followed,” said City Manager Monte Falls, citing language in the executive summary of the “3 Corners, Vero Beach” report recently completed by Duany’s DPZ CoDesign. The 207-page report can be found at tinyurl.com/VB3corn.

I asked Falls, for example, what would happen if a developer said he could not save the power plant and wanted to build a hotel comparable to say, a Courtyard Marriott.

More: 3 corners: Give tours of Vero Beach power plant to get everyone on same page

From 2015: Collaboration needed to pull off Three Corners project

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The old Vero Beach power plant at 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard is seen looking east in a rendering done Jan. 31, 2020, by DPZ, city planning consultants. One proposal for the three corners the city owns there is to turn the plant into a conference center and adjacent hotel with rooftop dining, perhaps under awnings attached to the smokestacks. Parking is depicted, lower left.
The old Vero Beach power plant at 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard is seen looking east in a rendering done Jan. 31, 2020, by DPZ, city planning consultants. One proposal for the three corners the city owns there is to turn the plant into a conference center and adjacent hotel with rooftop dining, perhaps under awnings attached to the smokestacks. Parking is depicted, lower left.

“We don’t want a Sheetrock place,” Falls said, suggesting the master plan would protect the integrity of such a hotel. “We’re looking for an upscale hotel.”

If you are interested, I suggest you read the plan. This is likely to be the final version, unless council members are convinced otherwise by speakers on Tuesday night.

I could nitpick the plan's language, but I won’t. City Council members should if they are concerned with the potential for developers to make a pitch, then weasel out.

The reality is the developer, if he or she will spend tens or hundreds of millions, will have to determine what is economically feasible. The developer might have to make some tweaks. That said, a financial consultant hired by Vero Beach said the recommended plan is economically viable.

In the report, you’ll see evidence this plan has been reviewed more extensively and publicly that perhaps any other plan ever in the county. I’ve probably written more on this issue than any other since August 2015, when some council members considered selling the west corner, possibly for a gasoline station. I suggested planning the future of all three corners together, given possible synergies.

Vero Beach Three Corners plan: Stop nitpicking Vero Beach's Three Corners plan; open site to public, developers

From 2015: Your ideas key to what will happen at bridge, boulevard intersection

Is seeing believing? Ex-VB manager didn't envision power plant potential

Who named it Three Corners?

That November I heard Penny Chandler, then president of Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, use the term “three corners” to describe the area when she put together a task force to look at what might go there. I’ve used the “three corners” verbiage since.

Ideally, I’d like to see the power plant renovated to become a Vero Beach version of what high-end hotel developer Richard Kessler did with $375 million at Plant Riverside in Savannah. He turned an old power plant into a waterfront showpiece for folks who don’t even stay there. (He’s done the same with an old funeral home, a bottling factory and a courthouse.)

Plant Riverside, with multiple hotels, has a museum-like atmosphere, immersed in the visual, performing and culinary arts — not to mention interesting retail.

The potential first step of that vision could come to fruition Tuesday night. Make your voice heard.

This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him via email at larry.reisman@tcpalm.com, phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Vero Beach Three Corners project: Now's time to give city council input

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