Vero City Council rejects motion to include members on Three Corners Selection Committee


Tracey Zudans believes she and the other members of the Vero Beach City Council should be part of the committee chosen to examine, evaluate and rank the proposals submitted earlier this month by four groups vying for the contract to develop the Three Corners site on mainland’s waterfront.

At last week’s meeting, in fact, Zudans made a motion to expand the Three Corners Selection Committee from its current seven members to include the City Council.

She never got a second.

Instead, the council voted 3-1 – John Carroll was not present – to continue the process with the Selection Committee appointed by City Manager Monte Falls last month.

Zudans, who initially offered no objection to Falls’ appointments, cast the lone “no” vote.

The vote was taken, however, only after Zudans, who is running to unseat County Commissioner Laura Moss in the November elections, insisted that the council formally approve the committee’s makeup.

Multiple city officials said the vote, which merely confirmed the council’s earlier direction to Falls, was not necessary. Clearly, though, Zudans was determined to get her objection on the record. “It is my opinion that it is neglectful of my duty to the citizens who elected me” to not have firsthand involvement in the process of selecting the proposal the committee will recommend to the City Council, Zudans said, citing the importance of the Three Corners project to the community’s future.

“I, for one, want to be part of this process,” she later added, seeming surprised that the other council members didn’t agree with her.

“You’re elected officials; that’s why you’re up here,” she said. “You guys should be firsthand involved in this.”

Feb. 1 was the deadline for developers to submit their proposals for the 34-acre property at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge, where the city wants to build a dining, retail, social and recreational hub.

Upon their arrival, copies of the proposals were promptly delivered to the seven members of the Selection Committee and PFM, a consultant the city hired to verify the financial abilities of the four development groups and conduct criminal background checks on their principals.

State law requires the proposals to be treated as sealed bids, thus their content will not be made public for 30 business days, which is March 4. Not even City Council members may see the submissions until then.

Both Mayor John Cotugno and Vice Mayor Linda Moore rebutted Zudans’ argument, saying there’s no need for council members to be part of the Selection Committee – because they’ll have access to all of the same information and they’ll make the final decision.

The council members also will have a recommendation from the committee, which can provide expertise in areas where they might be lacking.

“I appreciate that some of the people on the Selection Committee may have skills that are outside of my skill set,” Moore said. “I like the idea that we’re going to get their input.

“I don’t know if there’s added value in it for us to be involved from the very beginning,” she added, warning that the council’s inclusion on the committee could produce issues related to Florida’s open-government laws and unnecessarily complicate the process.

Cotugno agreed, saying the council actually benefits from not being part of the committee, which received the proposals two weeks ago and already has begun to review them and make evaluations.

By not being on the committee, he said, individual interactions between members of the council and committee are not subject to the state’s Sunshine Law, which requires meetings of government boards, councils and commissions to be open to the public.

“You can go to each and every committee member and query them,” Cotugno said, adding, “So you have added flexibility by not being on the committee. That, to me, is great.”

The mayor, who said the council will be the “final, ultimate decision makers” on the selection of the Three Corners project developer, also welcomed the input that will be provided by the committee. He said the process is moving forward at a “reasonable” pace, and that adding the council to the committee would be “redundant” and “slow down the process.”

The Selection Committee includes four city department heads: Planning & Development Director Jason Jeffries, Finance Director Steve Dionne, Public Works Director Matt Mitts and Water-and-Sewer Director Rob Bolton.

Joining them are Planning & Zoning Board chairman Jeb Bittner, Finance Commission chairman Robert Jones, and Vicky Gould, who chaired the Three Corners Steering Committee.

Falls said he solicited input from Jeffries and the city’s Three Corners project manager, Peter Polk, to select the committee members. The council approved the appointments without a vote in late January.

Three of the four proposals came from out of town:

  • Clearpath, which is based in Bloomington, Indiana, and markets itself as a “comprehensive real estate development, investment and services firm.”
  • Edgewater Group, a Fort Lauderdale-based firm that has designed and developed more than 44 marina and other waterfront projects around the world.
  • SUDA, Cred Capital, and Madison Marquette, a Pompano Beach-based partnership of developers looking to bridge generational trends that will reshape future urbanism.

The fourth proposal was submitted by Vista Blue Vero Beach Resort & Spa, a group headed by Donald Urgo, president and CEO of Maryland-based Urgo Hotels & Resorts.

Falls said each of the Selection Committee members will independently review the proposals and rank them based on the city’s criteria, which include the developers’ financial means, technical capability and conformity with the council-approved Three Corners Concept Plan.

They will reveal their rankings at a public meeting on May 1.

The committee then, as a group, will invite the developers to come to Vero Beach to make in-person presentations and field questions. Falls said last week those sessions were being scheduled but probably would be on May 8 or May 15.

The interviews will be conducted behind closed doors, Falls said, “to protect the integrity of the process, so that one developer doesn’t sit in on the other developers’ questioning and have an unfair advantage” by knowing what the committee asked and how it responded to answers.

Once that phase is completed, the committee members will rank the proposals again, based on what they heard and saw during the presentation, and recommend to the council that the city engage in negotiations with the top choice.

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