Three Corners: Developer chosen, but now comes the hard part


News Analysis

Now that the Vero Beach City Council has chosen the middle-of-the-road vision for its Three Corners riverfront development project – one that might lack the aspirational “wow” factor, but includes lots of attractive amenities and won’t cost a half-billion dollars – Vero faces a task it has a less-than-stellar track record of accomplishing.

Negotiating a big-dollar contract that doesn’t result in chaos or costly litigation.

Over the next few months, city officials, presumably guided by a top-notch transactional attorney with significant commercial development experience, need to flesh out the details of a monumentally complex deal in a way that protects the taxpayers of Vero Beach and the interests of the greater community for the long haul.

Vero Planning and Zoning Commission Board Chairman Jeb Bittner, a retired 40-plus year developer who served on the city’s selection committee that vetted and ranked the proposals, said local residents will need to be very patient. He knows the community has been very excited and engaged in this initial process, but it will be years before anything goes vertical on the site.

Assuming Vero officials can successfully ink a deal with the SuDa CREC Madison Group (SD), the developer will need to obtain financing, and find a reputable contractor with the resources to handle a job of the Three Corners’ scope. Then there will be permitting and environmental considerations – lots of painstaking behind-the-scenes work by engineers, consultants and, of course, by lawyers every step of the way.

“The first site plans are at least a year and a half away,” Bittner said of the increased workload that the planning and zoning board will eventually see from the project. “It will be a while.”

The room was quiet, and the audience on the edge of their seats a week earlier as City Manager Monte Falls announced the top developer set to transform an old power plant location into a modern community hub.

Before the cheers and hoorays, the council heard the views of 26 residents on which development group had the best vision for the city.

Two out of four teams stood out from the rest – SūDā and Clearpath Services. It seemed like a tug-of-war match between supporters of the groups.

“Clearpath’s design was spectacular, but the cost was frightening,” said Peter Polk, the project manager for Three Corners, during the city council meeting. “SūDā had the right combination and the right design. SūDā (representatives) talked about the connection to the environment and community. People liked that.”

The four proposals were submitted by Clearpath Services; the SūDā partnership; Vista Blue Vero Beach Resort & Spa; and Edgewater Group. On May 17th, the Three Corners Selection Committee recommended Clearpath to redevelop the old power plant, located on the west end of the Alma Lee Loy (17th Street) Bridge near Indian River Boulevard.

Ultimately, SūDā ranked as the top developer to repurpose the 38-acre parcel into something future generations can enjoy. Clearpath was the runner-up.

It was a decision not taken lightly and comes with a 99-year lease.

“It was close … two different but compelling visions,” said David Brainerd, chief investment officer at Madison Marquette.

Clearpath’s $504 million proposal had included 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 parks with an amphitheater, splash park, skate park, waterfront village and more than 700 parking spaces.

SD’s $189 million proposal includes an arching portal that will create a visual and pedestrian connection to the waterfront. The north side of the old power plant – nicknamed “Big Blue” – will include a lifestyle boutique hotel, state-of-the-art meeting facilities, and an elevated amenity deck with river and ocean views. The south side of the property will feature multifunctional venues for live music, cultural and arts events, festivals, a marketplace, a rooftop lounge with views of the public parks below and the marina.

SD’s plan will also have a public market and gourmet food bazaar retail space, landscaped tropical gardens and open spaces for public gatherings. The project highlights sustainability, focusing on eco-friendly building materials, energy efficient designs and green spaces to minimalize the environmental impact, according to its website.

“I thank the community, city council and staff for finding us worthy and giving us this enormous responsibility to build something iconic and enduring for future generations,” said Gaurav Butani, founding principal of SūDā . “We will create something that has meaning and depth. Future generations will value and treasure it.”

What will Vero Beach – recognized nationally as one of America’s best beach towns – look like years from now? What will the old power plant, which many consider an eyesore, look like?

The former electric plant site is considered the most valuable city publicly owned waterfront property on Florida’s east coast, according to city officials. For residents and most city councilmembers, keeping the city charm of Vero Beach was crucial in deciding which developer would reshape the historical site.

Brad Weiser, managing partner at CREC Capital, said SūDā focused on what they believed the people of Vero Beach wanted.

“People make decisions on what they think is best for the community,” Weiser said. “We’re excited. The proof is in the pudding. Now, work lies ahead.”

With last Tuesday’s decision, community leaders must now hold the city to the highest standards of excellence, said Lance Lunceford, chairman and president of the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County.

“Nothing is more important to the future of the city than ensuring the successful redevelopment of the Three Corners. The City Council chose SūDā, but regardless of the selected developer the most important considerations in this project lie ahead,” Lunceford said. “The success of this project will chart the next hundred years of our ‘something special city.’”

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