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Three Corners: Bold vision is clearly right

There was a time this past Friday, early in their post-presentation public discussion of the four proposals to create a waterfront destination on Vero Beach’s mainland, when it appeared the seven members of the city’s Three Corners Evaluation Committee were talking themselves out of the best decision for our community.

Maybe they were nitpicking the spectacular proposal submitted by Indiana-based Clearpath Services – trying to find flaws that didn’t exist – simply because they felt the need to reassure themselves that what they were seeing and hearing wasn’t too good to be true.

Or maybe they wanted to make sure they gave every possible consideration to the hometown group’s proposal, which was nice but didn’t offer anything close to the wow factor of Clearpath’s vision for the Three Corners site.

Ultimately, the committee would get it right: Clearpath’s $504 million proposal was the panel’s top choice, and it wasn’t close.

The Pompano Beach-based SuDa, Crec Capital, Madison Marquette partnership finished second, ahead of the Vista Blue Vero Beach Resort & Spa group led by longtime hotel developer Don Urgo, who has homes locally at John’s Island and Marbrisa.

The marina-centric proposal submitted by the Edgewater Group of Fort Lauderdale was No. 4 on all seven members’ rankings.

Five of the committee’s members, meanwhile, ranked the Clearpath plan No. 1, sending a strong recommendation to the City Council, which was scheduled to interview the four development groups Tuesday and render a final verdict next week.

There’s no real chance the council will reject and override the committee’s recommendation – unless, perhaps, there’s strong public opposition to Clearpath’s plan, which is highly unlikely – so we can expect negotiations between the city and developer to begin as soon as next month.

“The process is working and I’m excited with the way we’re moving forward,” Mayor John Cotugno said, refraining from commenting on the committee’s rankings.

Clearly, though, the committee selected the developer that submitted the most exciting and visionary proposal – one that includes a boutique hotel with a contemporary-art museum, great hall with food offerings and office space, on-the-water event center, restaurants, 43-slip marina, kayak canal, community park with an amphitheater, splash park, skate park, waterfront village and more than 700 parking spaces.

It also chose the most impressive team.

Clearpath’s partners for this project include Turner Construction, the globally renowned HOK architectural firm, Bellingham Marine, Accor/21c hotels and Westminster Capital. In addition, the group recently brought in the local Kimley-Horn office to assist with site engineering and permitting.

At least one representative of each entity attended – either in person or online – Clearpath’s formal presentation to the committee last week and fully embraced the “Let’s be bold together” message around which the development group’s proposal was created.

The group also sweetened its already-powerful presentation with a prop: a three-dimensional model of its proposed development.

“As a group, we’re here to be part of the community,” said Clearpath President and Chief Counsel Randy Lloyd, who has vacationed in Vero Beach for years. “We’re not a greedy developer. … We’re not baiting you here and switching on you later.”

More than one committee member, however, expressed concerns about the size of Clearpath’s proposed investment, which was more than double the amount of the other development groups vying for the contract, and its ability to financially execute its plan.

Some wondered about potential risks to the city if the plan proves to be too ambitious.

“Clearpath’s plan is a lot more intense,” said committee member Rob Bolton, director of the city’s water-and-sewer utility.

It didn’t help that the city’s financial consultant, PFM Advisors, opened the meeting by labeling the proposal’s financial risk “moderately high,” the only one of the plans to not be rated “moderately low” or “low.”

But as the conversation continued, the momentum shifted – mostly because committee member Jeb Bittner, chairman of the city’s Planning & Zoning Board, refused to allow fears of potential risk to derail a proposal that went far beyond what anyone here imagined.

The financial risk was merely one metric, Bittner explained, adding that such risk could be mitigated during Clearpath’s contract negotiations with the city.

Besides, he said, “The significant risk is on the part of the developer, and they wouldn’t be pursuing this – as big as they are and with the size of their investment – if they couldn’t do it.”

Bittner, a retired developer, urged the committee members to not “settle for vanilla instead of the sprinkles,” saying, “This is such a rare property – such a rare opportunity on the lagoon – that we shouldn’t be swayed too much by risk in the contract.”

If the risk can’t be mitigated during the contract negotiations, he added, the city has the option to move on to the SuDa group, which entered the competition late and presented a significantly updated proposal last week.

But Bittner said Clearpath’s offerings justify city representatives spending up to six months in negotiations, even if a deal can’t be reached.

“It’ll become obvious to both parties before any real money is spent,” Bittner said. “I think it’s worth going through the process. It’s worth that time to get an aspirational project.”

He’s absolutely right.

Given the transformational nature of the Three Corners project and the impact it will have on Vero Beach for the next 100 years, the greater risk would be to not aim high enough.

As City Public Works Director Matt Mitts, a committee member, put it: “This project is going to set the tone for the future of the community.”

We need to do something special with the Three Corners site, where the city hopes to create a dining, retail, social and recreational hub on the waterfront at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge.

Clearpath, with its dazzling proposal, has shown us how special it can be.

Yes, it’s possible the plan might need to be scaled back, if state environmental agencies refuse to permit Clearpath to create a small offshore island for its event center or build the proposal kayak canal.

But the Clearpath folks, who believe their entire proposal is viable, said they have alternatives that can work.

They’ve spent time in our community and given us a plan that would provide more than we thought was possible. They’ve assembled a development industry all-star team, and they’re still welcoming partners. They’ve answered all of our questions, tried to ease all of our concerns.

This is a no-brainer for the City Council.

Let’s not allow the naysayers to needlessly raise doubts and make us afraid to chase something that isn’t too good to be true.

Let’s be bold together.

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