Should a boardwalk that was ‘part of the fabric of Vero Beach’ be saved?


There’s a powerful, nostalgia-driven argument to be made for wanting to recapture the quaint, seaside charm of Old Vero by rebuilding the storm-damaged Humiston Beach boardwalk.

Then there’s the case for replacing the historic boardwalk, which was severely compromised by Hurricane Nicole in 2022, with a sidewalk on the western edge of the dunes.

The sidewalk costs less.

A lot less.

That matters in Vero Beach, where the municipal government operates within the confines of a $32 million budget that is often stressed to provide the infrastructure, services and amenities to its 17,000 citizens, as well as to accommodate the daily influx of residents of a steadily growing county with a population more than 10 times the city’s size.

Spending an unbudgeted $2 million to build a boardwalk, even one with a history that dates back to the 1930s, isn’t a no-brainer.

That’s the price tag for rebuilding Humiston’s concrete boardwalk, which was demolished early last year after city engineers deemed it unsafe and unsalvageable.

The cost to build a raised, 12-foot-wide sidewalk was just over $700,000, plus an additional $40,000 for two pavilions.

So after a few minutes of discussion on the dais in a nearly empty chamber, the Vero Beach City Council voted unanimously last week to move forward with the sidewalk option, adding a new lifeguard station equipped with a storage area.

Only one city resident – former Vero Beach mayor Tony Young, who spoke of the wonderful times he spent on boardwalk during his childhood years – went to the podium to voice support for the concrete-boardwalk plan.

He said the Humiston boardwalk was “part of the fabric of Vero Beach” and “part of who we are.”

Reached by phone afterward, Young questioned the city staff’s rendering of the sidewalk option, saying he believed it wouldn’t offer the same shoreline views and ambiance of a boardwalk.

“A sidewalk is fine along the street in a business district, but when you come to the beach, you expect to see a boardwalk,” he added. “That’s what should be here.”

Many longtime local residents, particularly those who see so much of what they remember about Vero Beach going away, probably agree.

But much of the blame for this decision goes to the county, which has steadfastly refused to directly share any tourist-tax revenues with its municipalities including Vero Beach, which city officials say generates more than half of that money each year.

The county does cover the costs of beach renourishment projects, but with funding assistance from the federal and state governments. Even so, Vero Beach should be entitled to some percentage of the tourist-tax revenues generated in the city.

At the very least, the county should be willing to work with the city through some type of inter-local agreement to help fund projects that are mutually beneficial, as the county continues to grow and additional revenues from new residential development beyond the Vero Beach limits pour into its coffers.

The Humiston boardwalk – which is not only an oceanfront amenity enjoyed by both city and county residents; it’s also a tourist attraction – should be one of those joint projects.

But not the only one.

The list of amenities the city makes available to county residents sounds like the title of a Jimmy Buffet anthology: Beaches, Boardwalks, Boat Ramps and Breweries.

And let there be no doubt: More county residents use these amenities, as well as the city’s parks, than their Vero Beach counterparts.

Rebuilding the Humiston boardwalk, then, should be the project that finally forces our County Commission to engage the City Council in a public conversation to discuss sharing, to some degree, tax revenues generated in Vero Beach.

But that’s up to you.

For years, Vero Beach officials have broached the subject with their county counterparts, only to get nowhere as commissioners have steadfastly rejected the city’s claim to any of those revenues.

There’s virtually no chance the commissioners will change their position any time soon – unless, perhaps, their constituents demand it.

Remember: This is an election year, and three commission seats are on the ballot, with the incumbents all being challenged.

If you won’t act now, don’t complain about the sidewalk, which, by the way, appears to be a considerably better option than critics want you to believe it is.

“Have you actually seen the plan we selected?” asked Mayor John Cotugno, responding to critics of the council’s action. “Not only does it better-protect the dune, provide a similar ocean view, add two new pavilions, put benches on the walk-overs, and include a new-and-improved lifeguard tower, but it’s more than a million dollars less expensive.”

A sidewalk might not offer the nostalgia of a boardwalk that reminded many of us of the simpler, slower-paced, small-town Vero Beach of yesteryear. But the City Council appears to see it as a palatable alternative. And again, it costs less.

Would a boardwalk be better? Maybe, but if that’s what you want, someone’s got to pay for it.

You want something different? Call your county commissioners and tell them to write a check.

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