Three Corners: Extra time likely beneficial

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The Vero Beach City Council last week voted unanimously to extend until Feb. 1 the deadline for developers to submit proposals for the much-anticipated Three Corners project.

It was the right decision.

It was also the city’s only real choice, given the potential embarrassment of receiving only two proposals – or fewer – by the original Dec. 15 deadline.

In fact, when asked during a phone interview if it was possible the city could find itself next Friday without any proposals, Three Corners Project Manager Peter Polk replied, “I can’t be certain.”

The city’s marketing consultant, however, felt confident that at least two developers would’ve met this month’s deadline.

Ken Krasnow, Colliers International’s vice chairman for institutional investor services in South Florida, told council members the city could expect submissions from “probably two or three” of approximately a dozen developers he described as “active, engaged, interested” if the deadline wasn’t extended.

That number could grow to as many six, Krasnow said at last week’s council meeting, if potential developers were given an additional 45 days to evaluate the site, decide whether to invest and prepare their proposals.

“We are in a challenging market,” Krasnow said, explaining the impacts of inflation, higher interest rates, increased construction costs, limited insurance availability and the lingering effects of supply-chain shortages spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The developers, most of them based in Florida, are weighing all those unfriendly factors before deciding whether to commit to the efforts and expense of preparing a detailed proposal for the Three Corners property, he added.

In addition, Krasnow said, the project here has attracted interest from “some of the most prolific and prestigious developers in the country,” for whom the Three Corners would be only one of numerous commercial real-estate investments.

That means, he added, some of the potential Three Corners developers are “processing the site, opportunity and market” in Vero Beach while simultaneously confronting the market issues affecting their existing projects.

And as Krasnow pointed out: The city is seeking a comprehensive proposal worthy of investment in a $250 million-plus project.

Certainly, for an investment of that magnitude – for a wildly popular project that will be years in the making when it’s completed – a 45-day extension of the deadline for submitting proposals is no cause for concern yet.

Besides, we are entering the Christmas holiday season and approaching the end of the year, so it’s unrealistic to think the city would be doing much with the proposals between Dec. 15 and Jan. 2, anyway.

Even with the deadline extended to Feb. 1, the project remains on schedule.

“There’s no change to the start date for construction,” Polk said, referring to the city’s plan to break ground on May 1, 2026, after more than sufficient stretches allotted for contract negotiations, site-plan revisions and engineering. “Enough time has been built into the schedule to absorb this delay.

“I see this extension less as a delay and more as an opportunity,” he added. “This is an opportunity for us to get better proposals and more of them, and getting both without impacting the schedule.

“We’re talking about a small change that could reap significant benefits.”

Or as council member Tracey Zudans put it: “I’d hate for us to be shortsighted and stick to that (December) deadline so strictly that we miss the opportunity that could come from the extra 45 days.”

Will some skeptics, familiar with the City Council’s long history of moving at the speed of erosion on too many projects, see this extension as a reason to doubt whether the Three Corners will become the lagoon-front dining, social, retail and recreational hub Vero Beach so sorely lacks?

Bet on it.

The current volatility in the employment market, where candidates apply for jobs and then fail to show up for interviews, forced the city to take a month longer than expected to hire Polk, who’s working on a contract basis.

But based on what we’ve seen thus far, the naysayers are wrong.

The city’s hopes of celebrating the grand opening of the Three Corners development during the summer of 2028 might be more than a little optimistic, but the community’s overwhelming support will drive the project home, even if it’s 2029 or 2030 before we hoist our first beers there.

As is the case with any major project – particularly in Florida, especially on the water – there will be hiccups. Delays are inevitable, whether they’re caused by weather, the economy or even politics.

Remember: The city also is planning to relocate its wastewater-treatment plant from the south side of the Three Corners property to the Vero Beach Regional Airport, and the Florida Department of Transportation’s repairs to the adjacent 17th Street Bridge are expected to continue through the spring of 2028.

“There are always bumps in the road and outside factors that impact projects of this size,” Polk said. “We could get hit with a hurricane that alters the site. The economy could take a downturn. We have no control over what happens on that bridge.

“But I take the schedule seriously,” he added, “and I feel good about it.”

All of us will feel better when the developers submit their proposals and we see what they have envisioned.

Mayor John Cotugno said he expects the council, as a result of extending the deadline to February, to have at least four proposals from which to choose. Polk wants at least three.

“I’d like it if some team had an architect with a great imagination, so we could do something with the existing (power plant) building,” Polk said. “But I could go either way on that.

“The key thing at this point was to extend the deadline,” he added. “This project is too big and too important to the community to not give as many potential developers as possible an opportunity to submit the best proposals they can.”

Cotugno said Krasnow will provide the council with an update in January, but Polk said the city won’t receive the proposals until the deadline – because developers don’t want competitors to see their plans in advance.

So we wait a little longer, hoping the City Council, Polk and Krasnow were right and that the 45-day extension made a difference.

And if it didn’t?

What happens if, because of the challenges in today’s commercial development market, the city still ends up with only two proposals or less? Does the city move forward, or regroup and send out another request for proposals?

Unlike last week, when there was no way the city could stick with its December deadline, the council will have a choice to make in February.

Or will it?

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