Most people who opposed Vero Beach selling its historic post office property on 13th Avenue in the Old Downtown business district voiced their opinion by talking to a City Council member, writing a letter or offering comments from the podium.
But developer Michael Rechter, through his Integra Real Estate company, did something much more significant – he said he’d buy it himself for up to $1.3 million to keep it away from outsiders. “I’m doing this to protect the city against a bad owner,” Rechter said. “I have jumped into a property that I had no interest in.”
That show of commitment to the city where Rechter owns a shopping plaza with a bowling alley, another post office building, commercial property including a restaurant along 14th Avenue, plus the old, red-brick diesel electric plant that he transformed into the popular American Icon Brewery, convinced the City Council to sell him the post office building last week.
Two other bidders, Vero Beach businessman Joe Cataldo of ReDev Group, and New York-based Nationwide Postal Management, were in the hunt, and a minor bidding war pushed the price up from $1.2 million to $1.225 million and then $1.3 million. But with the New York buyer, there was always the question of what an out-of-town owner might do after the U.S. Postal Service finishes out its lease.
Cataldo during the council meeting conceded that Rechter should win the bid. “If it’s not [owned by] the city, the next best thing is Michael Rechter,” he said.
“The important thing is that, this postal service, I have no idea what’s going to happen to it in seven years – if they want to renew, if they want to terminate, if they have an option to terminate early,” Rechter said. “If they extend, I’m obviously happy. I’m a landlord of the postal service on U.S. 1 since 2005, and I don’t want them to go anywhere.
“But if and when they do decide to vacate, that’s really the opportunity – that’s where this decision is going to come home to roost,” said Rechter.
Rechter said he spoke to the postal management company and the owner seemed like a good guy. But, he said, “the difference is that I love Vero Beach and he has no interest in it all. He has zero investment in Vero Beach and he has no desire to own anything else in Vero Beach.”
Right now, the city can get a decent price for the 1.25-acre property, because of the lucrative lease payments of about $100,000 per year. But if the asking price were just for a 53-year-old building and a parking lot, the proceeds might or might not reach anything close to $1.3 million.
“If we had a vacant building sitting there, we would be in a world of trouble,” City Manager Jim O’Connor said.
Rechter said he sees the value of the property either way – with the government paying to keep the 1965 post office open, or with the parcel and its structure becoming the next blank slate onto which he could develop another gem to add to the landscape of Vero’s downtown district.
O’Connor reminded the council that, because he is an important neighbor of the property in question, Rechter has as much at risk as the city does, which means he’s going to keep an eye on the property.
“We don’t need to have some slum lord come down there and take that piece of ground and then run the post office off because they don’t keep it up,” O’Connor said. “We have a person standing here who not only has post office experience, but who has redevelopment experience in our neighborhood.”
“Within reason, I would like the property to go to a local person who has a stake in our community,” Mayor Harry Howle said. “Certainly Mr. Rechter has a very good track record of being an integral part of our community.”
“Everything that I’ve seen Michael Rechter do in our community fits with the culture of our community and makes our community a better place,” Councilman Val Zudans said. “So I have confidence that if he gets involved in a project like this, or if something happens other than the post office being in there, that it’s going to be of that same type of quality.”
Councilman Lange Sykes said he was in favor of selling. “You’re putting the risk on private industry and not the taxpayer,” he said.
Councilman Tony Young and Councilwoman Laura Moss ultimately voted not against Rechter per se, but against selling the property at all, and the sale was approved 3-2.
Young pointed out that Rechter advised the city not to sell the post office, but said if the city sold, he wanted to be part of the ballgame. “My concern has always been that we have the right fit for that property and have some consideration for the future,” Young said.
The building is in the historic heart of the city, Young said, and that’s why he feels so strongly that Vero should keep it.
Councilwoman Laura Moss thanked both Rechter and Cataldo for submitting proposals, but said she wanted to wait to sell the property because she sees the price only going up.
O’Connor was authorized to work out a contract with Rechter and come back to the City Council with a final sale document.
The move will bring the city a cash infusion and take a maintenance burden off its plate. It will also put the property back on the tax rolls, providing annual revenue at a time when Vero is looking at restructuring its budget to make up for more than $5 million annually that has historically been transferred to the general fund from the electric utility.
After the sale of the electric utility to Florida Power & Light, which is scheduled to close in October, those millions will no longer flow into city coffers.