Sebastian Council supports rebirth of fish house as algae farm

SEBASTIAN – The Sebastian City Council Wednesday night voiced support for a Vero Beach algae farm operation to move into the historic Archie Smith Fish House on Indian River Drive.

The firm, AlgaGen LLC, needs the county’s blessing before it can set up its operations.

“It’s a perfect location for growing a business,” AlgaGen representative Bill Cox said after the council’s favorable vote. The company cultivates algae for aquariums and fish farms wants to expand into Sebastian, adding to its south county base on Oslo Road near Vero Beach.

“We’re committed to staying here,” Cox said of remaining in Indian River County, where the company has been located for eight years.

Whether the company could actually use the Archie Smith Fish House site remains unclear. The county purchased the property several years ago using publicly funded bonds for land acquisition. There could be restrictions in place that would prohibit the property from being used as a commercial site.

City Manager Al Minner said after the council meeting that the city did not look into that issue before bringing a resolution of support to the council members. He added that the onus would be on the Board of County Commissioners to be sure AlgaGen’s use of the site is consistent with the terms of the bond monies as the county owns the property.

Cox, and CEO Erik Stenn, originally thought the company would use the property on the west side of Indian River Drive in addition to the fish house property for more expansion. They told the council that they have since changed their minds and would focus solely on the fish house site.

The company will be asking the county for a 99-year lease for the site, long term tax relief from the city for tangible property and equipment, city-provided parking for employees, assistance in getting permits and permissions required for operations over and in submerged lands, and under-road drilling permission for salt water and related well lines.

If the county approves AlgaGen’s request, Cox said the company could move in by October, once renovations are complete. The first phase would be to set up administrative and sales offices at the site.

Algae production would follow later, once environmental impact studies and permitting are completed.

Cox told the council that they have no plans to modify the historic nature of the buildings on the outside. However, they would renovate the interior to allow for a visitors/museum/exhibition use within the fish house itself.

The other building on the site would be used for growing algae.

“We’re trying to dominate the regional market,” Cox said.

The Sebastian City Council also passed a resolution asking the Board of County Commissioners to step up and preserve the Archie Smith Fish House as county officials promised to do when they bought the site.

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