VERO BEACH — Change could be coming to Miracle Mile as one developer takes the lead in reshaping the strip mall’s future, envisioning a pedestrian-friendly urban village.
Relative newcomer Keith Kite has moved his office from the barrier island to space at Miracle Mile and plans to revamp his corner as a sign of things to come – something with style.
Kite, a native Floridian, real estate investor, and University of Florida graduate in construction, has asked the city’s planning and zoning department to designate a Miracle Mile Improvement District that would allow it to become a mixed-use village in the city’s comprehensive plan.
“Our concept is to “village-ify” it,” said Kite. “If it’s designated an improvement district, then we would all know we would be allowed to do that. The development community could submit plans to do a townhouse or a work environment or another retail concept. Right now we’re frozen because it’s only zoned for a shopping center.”
“I think the whole mixed-use idea makes a lot of sense,” said Tim McGarry, director of planning and zoning for the city of Vero Beach.
Kite’s development firm is honing in on a specialty in hotel franchises around Florida and Georgia. He recently opened the SpringHill Suites by Marriott on Indian River Boulevard and is now planning a Hampton Inn on Miracle Mile.
By the end of the year, Kite hopes to have shed the mini-strip mall’s dated mansard roof, pulled down like a black wool cap over a flat grey exterior, and started a re-do designed by award-winning architect Peter Moor.
The plans drew accolades when presented to the city’s Architectural Review Commission, a group that came about after complaints about another set of buildings’ controversial colors, on the very stretch of road, the Miracle Mile.
Having won the minor zoning change needed to allow his office and hotel projects to go forward, Kite is pushing for changes for all of Miracle Mile.
“If we properly planned within the urban service area, we’d have decades of infill that we could utilize,” he said.
For the village-like interconnectedness to work, McGarry envisions creating an “enabling policy framework” to make the area a mixed-use district, from which regulations could be drawn up for review.
“We need to have something in the comprehensive plan that establishes the basis for doing that, as well as set some standards as to how it should be implemented,” he said.
That process would be public, and would include not only businesses, but residents as well, several of whom have already voiced concerns.
McGarry hopes to have drafted some language by mid-year. He said the fact that there are only a few investors owning most of the affected property makes it “much easier to have some opportunities to do some changes.”
Kite is urging the city to hire a consortium of talent already living and working locally to put the vision to paper. He names Peter Moor, who has designed for Kite, along with Scott Merrill, whose firm was involved in parc24; both are very familiar with the New Urbanism concept. So is Richard Bialoski, current chairman of the city’s Architectural Review Commission.
“Keith is pretty much going in the necessary direction that everything has to go,” said Bialosky, who relocated to Vero from California. “It’s really a challenge to move this particular ball forward. We’re not a backwards place; we’re very tuned in, intelligent people who travel and see other places. So it’s a puzzle to me that we completely ignore planning. I keep making the point that it’s fine to say what you don’t want to be like. You’ve got to look at the good examples.”
Kite said the key to overhaul would be increasing the density and attracting multiple types of businesses, creating a destination where people will park and walk to the various businesses.
Not everyone agrees that people would be willing to walk, especially in Florida’s heat.
“I don’t see that happening at all,” said Tom Leonard, longtime owner of the Vero Beach Book Center, who said he doubts people will ever opt to walk from one building to the other. “People pull into our main store parking lot, go into our main store, come out again, and get back in their car and drive around the building to get to the children’s store. It’s just the way folks are.”
Yet Leonard said he does take breaks to get some fresh air and walks to the opposite end of the plaza to grab a sandwich at Cheese Cave or Fresh Market.
The problem is not a new one in urban planning. For decades in other urban re-dos, designers have successfully tackled the driving addiction with centralized parking garages and plenty of covered walkways with the occasional air-conditioned passageway within a mixed-used district.
“I kept looking at Miracle Mile as one gigantic parking lot that could be a mixed-use village,” said Kite. “I see it as ‘Live, work, stay, play.’ It’s just putting the pieces together.”
Kite said his site plan approval is “in process” with city officials and he expects to begin construction towards the end of this year.
“One way or another,” said Kite, “Miracle Mile is being reborn.”