Younger Vero residents— who aren’t often seen at advisory board or city council meetings — have already become prominent participants in the redevelopment of Centennial Place, pleasantly surprising planners.
As of late last week, more than 30 percent of people registering to express their opinions on www.speakupverobeach.com — the online forum where the public can learn about the project and submit ideas for the development — are users born after 2005.
In a city where a mere 13.2 percent of the population is under the age of 18, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates, the prospect of hearing from a demographic typically too busy with school or other activities to attend government meetings is exciting, planners said.
“The youth never show up and I think it’s so important because whatever happens at the power plant site is going to be for these upcoming generations,” said Irina Woelfle, owner of local public relations firm IWPR Group, which is working with DPZ CoDesign, the world-renowned planning firm hired by the city to help redevelop the site.
Woelfe also hopes to get young families and citizens of all ages involved in the planning process, she added.
DPZ co-founder Andrés Martin Duany feels the same way.
He said he wants the development to be “a social solvent, that brings together island and mainland residents, young and old.”
The city earlier this year hired Miami-based DPZ to help guide the planning process and come up with a final plan for the roughly 38-acre riverfront property on 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard which includes the sites of the current wastewater treatment plant, former city electric plant and former postal annex.
Conor O’Haire, 20, a barrier island sophomore studying architectural design at the University of Florida, is one of the young people interested in how the property will be developed. O’Haire has already started reaching out to friends his age on social media urging them to visit www.speakupverobeach.com and plans to speak at local schools when he has a break from classes.
“Young people historically, don’t seem to be particularly involved in government and their local government politics, especially in the case of Vero where it’s so often dominated by the older community,” O’Haire said. “The youth have never had a place where they feel comfortable, where they feel they’ve had input, where they feel they’ve left their mark or had any sort of control of what happens there. Hopefully, with this new platform, those ideas can be integrated or at least seriously considered for the first time.”
O’Haire personally would like to see the land developed to incorporate a waterfront restaurant with boat access, a river walk adjoining the properties beneath the bridge with space for greenery, sculpture garden and potentially an amphitheater, he said.
The planning process is anticipated to last six months and includes time to analyze the site, garner input online, formulate a public survey, hold a series of public meetings in late January and present a final report summarizing the community’s wishes in May.
DPZ last week held a “kick-off” presentation to the City Council. The council — at the urging of DPZ — also formulated a steering committee to help organize community ideas. The committee consists of the five council members, an appointee of each, an at-large member and an alternate. The committee held its first meeting last week and plans to tour the defunct power plant on Dec. 3 at 1:30 p.m.
DPZ plans to formulate five redevelopment concepts for the prime riverfront site that the public can choose from, ranging from a mostly undeveloped site to a fully developed area that incorporates the wishes of immediate site neighbors, the greater Vero Beach population and elected officials.
Ideas generated on the website, which launched on Nov. 19, include a marina, sailing club, fishing pier, waterfront park with restaurants, new City Hall, an entertainment venue and affordable housing for teachers and the younger individuals. The possibility of repurposing the power plant and using the top of the structure as a rooftop bar or viewing area was also floated.
The council’s hope is to present the public with a final plan or two and then put the issue on the ballot during the 2020 election so voters can choose what they want done with the site. The City Charter prohibits a change in the use of the property unless voters approve it.