I must admit: I’ve got mixed emotions about the impending demolition of what many longtime Vero Beach residents call the “old Press Journal building.”
As many of you know, I began my full-time newspaper career there as a cops-and-courts reporter about 100 years ago – or so it seems, anyway – before embarking on a rewarding sports-writing venture that took me to Jacksonville, New York, Los Angeles and Denver, and ultimately brought me back to Vero Beach.
Actually, the year was 1980, in the aftermath of Watergate, when everyone wanted to be the next Woodward & Bernstein. I was 21 years old, had just graduated from Washington & Lee University with a journalism degree, and I was thrilled to get a job as a reporter.
Back then, everyone here read the Press Journal, which covered the community like a blanket from its then-one-story U.S. 1 offices, just down the street from the Denny’s where, because I worked the holiday, I ate my first Christmas dinner away from “home.”
I remember sitting at the counter, being the only customer in the place and ordering an open-faced hot turkey sandwich with gravy and mashed potatoes. I also remember the waitress embracing the spirit of the season and, along with my check, bringing this Christmas orphan a free hot-fudge sundae for dessert.
That’s just one of the many memories that would dash through my mind as I drove past the old building in the 20-plus years since my return, especially during the nine years since I stopped working there and joined the paper that now covers the community.
Lately, though, the nostalgia I once felt has turned to disgust as the aging, long-vacant building – and the property on which it sits – has become an embarrassing eyesore along a prominent, between-the-bridges stretch of U.S. 1.
Not only is the building’s exterior covered with rust, stains, cracks and chips, but the surrounding grounds are a mess.
Overgrown weeds have replaced the once-landscaped grass. Large plastic bags of garbage have been dumped on the premises. Empty bottles, cans and other trash is strewn throughout the property, especially along the sides of the building.
The conditions have continued to worsen in recent weeks – so much so that Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said Monday the city’s Code Enforcement Division was preparing to issue a warning to the property’s owner.
The property, however, was sold in October, and the new owner plans to demolish the building and replace it with new structures that, according to the city’s Planning Department, will include a three-story 72,000-square foot storage facility, 4,200-square-foot car wash and 2,500-square-foot fast-food restaurant.
That can’t happen fast enough.
Not that the city needs another large self-storage facility built along a main throughfare – there’s already a massive one under construction along State Road 60, east of the Vero Beach police station – but the Press Journal building needs to go.
Nothing much has happened there since 2015, when Vero Beach resident Bill Summers paid $1.4 million to acquire the property from the E.W. Scripps Company, which moved the Press Journal’s shrinking newsroom and advertising team to leased offices downtown.
More than five years later, longtime island resident Wayne Gould bought the property from Summers – for $3 million – and initially expressed excitement about repurposing the building to accommodate a car museum and moving some, if not all, of his classic and historic cars to Vero Beach.
He put his plans on hold in 2021, with no construction permits submitted and no visible improvements made to the property.
In October, Gould sold the former Press Journal building and land to a West Palm Beach-based group that includes the two partners who own MarketLink Commercial, the real estate company Gould was using to lease the property.
JEB Vero Beach LLC purchased the 3.76-acre property for $3.8 million, and the city’s Planning & Zoning Board earlier this month approved the group’s site-plan application.
“The building is going to be demolished,” said Elizabeth Wright, one of the new owners, adding that her group is “very much in the process” of making that happen.
However, she was unable to provide a timeframe for the demolition.
According to County Building Division records, as of Monday, the JEB group had not yet submitted an application for a demolition permit.
There’s no reason for the new owners to waste money fixing up a dilapidated building that’s going to be demolished. In the meantime, though – if only to be good neighbors and show respect for our community – they should mow the overgrown, weed-infested grass and clean up the littered grounds.
As it is, seeing the “old Press Journal building” no longer reminds me of the newspaper years of my youth, so I’ve stopped looking.
Instead, I now glance over at the eye-catching, newly constructed building to its immediate north – home of the recently opened Veterinary Medical Center of Indian River County – and think about my dog.
Have I told you about the day I brought her home?