When they toured Vero’s now shuttered electric plant last week, members of the Centennial Place steering committee were wowed by the massive industrial building and some now are thinking seriously about preserving the history-rich structure, which is woven into the fabric of Vero Beach.
Committee Chairwoman Vicki Gould was impressed by the sheer enormity of the building and the development possibilities it presents.
“It just makes your creative juices flow and makes you think of what it could be,” Gould said, adding she wants to hear what the community thinks about preserving “Big Blue” before coming to a conclusion about the building’s fate.
The plant was abandoned roughly a year ago after Florida Power & Light Co. bought the city’s electric system for $185 million. The 12-member steering committee was formed last month by the city of Vero Beach to help organize community input on the redevelopment of the 30-plus-acre site now occupied by the shuttered power plant and current wastewater treatment facility.
The city earlier this year hired world-renowned urban planning firm DPZ CoDesign to help guide the planning process and come up with a final plan for the riverfront property, which flanks the 17th Street bridge on the mainland side.
DPZ co-founder Andrés Martin Duany is an admirer of the defunct power plant’s architecture and believes it should somehow be incorporated into final plans for several key reasons.
“There are aspects of the building, such as the control room and some of the machinery, that is basically industrial art of historical significance and it should be preserved,” Duany said. “Certain rooms need to be preserved.”
Repurposing the building would be environmentally friendly, given its proximity to the Indian River Lagoon, Duany added.
Another reason for making a transformed Big Blue part of the overall redevelopment project is its height, which lends itself to some kind of observation deck or other rooftop amenity.
“The roof of the building is the only place in Vero where you can see the city as a whole. There will never be a building built so tall,” Duany said. “As a vantage point for citizens … it is a precious space because city height limits will not allow anything remotely like it to ever be built.”
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 to the city council summarizing the community’s wishes in May.
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.
The council plans 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.
Structurally, the plant, built in the 1960s, is reminiscent of Brutalist architecture, a style marked by its monolithic and blocky appearance with a rigid geometric style that flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. The pale green control room with vintage analog controls evokes the early days of the space age.
At the same time, Duany has said that the scale of the building reminds him of medieval cathedrals.
Public tours are scheduled for Jan. 18 and Jan. 25. The public can learn about the tours and share ideas for the redevelopment project by going to speakupverobeach.com – a website created by DPZ to garner public input on the project.