The standing ovation Andres Duany received Friday night from the 300 people gathered at Vero Beach’s First Presbyterian Church was well-deserved – a rousing “Bravo!” for the nearly two-hour presentation of his comprehensive plan for transforming 38 acres of city-owned, lagoon-front property into something special.
This was a creative, dynamic waterfront design worthy of the name Centennial Place; it was not your grandfather’s notion of an old-fashioned Vero park that would be called Three Corners.
The world-renowned, Miami-based architect and urban planner’s vision for the waterfront parcel that now contains the city’s shuttered “Big Blue” power plant and active water-sewage treatment facility was impressive – in fact, close to spectacular.
For those who didn’t attend Friday night’s meeting, Duany’s plan for the power-plant site on the north side of the Alma Lee Loy/17th Street Bridge includes: three restaurants; a waterfront boardwalk and walking paths throughout the property, which would contain a small lake; Youth Sailing Foundation headquarters; boat docks; wedding chapel; beach volleyball courts, skateboard park and playground area; and small retail buildings.
“Big Blue” would be converted into a landmark conference center that would contain a great hall with meeting rooms, as well as a bar and rooftop dining. A 140-room hotel – with lagoon views and a swimming pool – would be built adjacent to the existing structure.
“If you haven’t toured the plant, you might think it’s not very attractive from the outside,” Duany said, “but it’s magnificent inside and offers tremendous potential.”
“Andres was given an enormous amount of data to digest, and he found a way to consolidate just about all of it,” Vero Beach Mayor Tony Young said. “Looking at the total package, I don’t think anybody could be unhappy with what he came up with.”
Despite the mayor’s enthusiasm, it is a key point to know that what we see on paper now isn’t necessarily what we’ll get. The designs and drawings Duany presented were not etched in stone and some modifications will be made.
Those who like the idea of dining and boating and a boutique hotel will need to mobilize and support Duany’s vision in the face of almost certain opposition from those who would love nothing better than to “build” an empty field with a couple of benches on the land and call it a park.
“The final plan won’t be submitted until the city officials take what we’re recommending and decide which elements they want to include,” Duany said.
“They may decide to take out some things, and they may decide to add some things.
“The plan I recommended has all the elements, based on the input my team received from the public at the charrettes and via the Internet,” he added. “But the plan I presented Friday night isn’t necessarily what will be voted on.
“Changes can be made.”
Changes almost certainly will be made: Politics will infect the process, affordability will be a factor, and who manages all the plan’s components is anyone’s guess.
It wasn’t surprising, then, to hear Duany say the “mortality rate” for such projects designed by his company is nearly 70 percent, primarily because not everyone agrees on the best use of the property and opponents always surface to attack perceived flaws.
“The highest point of acceptance is the night it’s presented, because everyone there knows what’s in the plan and why,” Duany said. “But our society has become so adversarial – social media sites like Facebook have become so toxic – there’s a tendency for the negative to emerge and kill these kinds of plans.
“If I came back in a month, I’d be correcting factual mistakes spread mostly on the Internet, where people can say what they want without fear of corrections,” he added. “From what I’ve seen in Facebook posts, there’s already a lot of misinformation being spread.
“But anyone who wasn’t at the presentation doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”
That’s why, Duany said, he wants his team to deliver its final recommendation to the city officials sooner rather than later.
The design team’s post-charrette report is due no later than March 13, followed by a draft report – with revisions and updates, including further input from the city’s Three Corners Steering Committee and city staff – due no later than April 17.
The team’s final report and presentation to the City Council is scheduled for May 5.
“We have six weeks to file our post-charrette report with the city,” he said, “but I want it done in two weeks, which would move the process along and also keep it from dragging into the election season.”
The power plant site hosted only part of Duany’s vision.
On the water-sewage treatment facility site south of the bridge – the city hopes to move the smelly operation off the lagoon within five years – Duany’s plan includes a “glamping” (glamorous camping) area, a small canal for launching kayaks and repurposing the two existing cement tanks into buildings used for arts and entertainment activities.
There would also be plenty of green space, surrounded by “workforce housing apartments” near the boulevard, Duany said, adding that those rental units would sit atop offices or other commercial space.
“Normally, in most places, the challenge is how do you make everything fit,” Duany said. “You have to choose what to include and what to leave out, because there’s not enough space for everything.
“That’s not a problem here; there’s plenty of room,” he added. “Our challenge was: How do we make it fit coherently? But that’s what we do.”
Something Duany and his team wanted their plan to accommodate and appeal to all segments of the local populace, but especially to younger people in hopes that more of them will be drawn to the Vero Beach community.
In fact, he openly speaks of the plan’s “bias” toward nightlife and weekend activities, even though young adults didn’t attend the charrettes in great numbers.
“It’s not about the number of people who show up,” Duany said. “If we get 40 older people and three younger people, we give their input the same weight.
“It’s not a vote. It’s an inquiry. So as long as we get a representative sample – and we did – we evaluate them all on their merits.”
According to Young, the city’s Steering Committee received 7,000-plus responses to its SpeakUpVeroBeach.com website and more than 1,000 people took city-provided tours of the Big Blue plant and property.
He credits Duany for sifting through the input and producing a plan that, if implemented, will give Vero Beach the active, attractive riverfront gathering place the community so sorely lacks.
Every town and city along the coast from Stuart to Cocoa has a beautiful riverfront shopping, dining and entertainment district that gives locals wonderful recreational options and attracts visitors who spend money and sometimes buy real estate and become part of the community.
But in Vero Beach you can drive the length of Indian River Boulevard without ever catching a glimpse of the river.
“The City Council wanted to be able to walk away from a planning endeavor and be able to say we listened to the public,” Young said.
“In that regard, we exceeded expectation. We’ve had a stream of people providing input, and with all the competing ideas, this thing could have gone off the rails in a lot of different ways.
“But it didn’t,” he added. “Andres understood the dynamics of Vero Beach, with all the rival interests, and he has presented a conceptual plan that is, by and large, harmonious.”
Duany said he doesn’t know how much of the plan he presented Friday night will be embraced by City Council members as the process continues and influential members of the community voice their preferences.
But he remains cautiously optimistic.
“It’s a very rich, up-to-date plan and, if it’s adopted, I certainly would look forward to visiting as it becomes a reality, because that property has so much potential,” Duany said. “But will that happen? I don’t really have a pulse yet.”