Can Fort Pierce offer lesson on what to do with Vero power plant site?

By Laurence Reisman, News Source @TCPalm

Lord only knows how many times I’ve driven past the empty lot that was Fort Pierce’s power plant until 2008.

It’s a picturesque 7-acre site downtown just across Indian River Drive from the Indian River Lagoon, city marina and waterfront park.

Several developers have unsuccessfully proposed projects for the site over the years so it remains vacant. On Wednesday, city officials reviewed developer proposalsfor the property, including one from Indian River County’s Keith Kite.

Why care what Fort Pierce is doing on the site of its old power plant? The proposals offer a glimpse into what could happen to the site of Vero Beach’s power plant on the northeast corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard.

Vero Beach Mayor Harry Howle knows what he doesn’t want. He rattled a few chains last month when he gave his two cents to TCPalm reporter Colleen Wixon.

“I’m not ready to say what I do want to see,” Howle said. “What I don’t want to see is another park. We have 42 parks in the county. I think we’re pretty good on parks.”

Who, beside Howle, wouldn’t want to see a huge park running from the power plant south to the city’s sewer plant, which eventually could be razed? The reality is the city might not be able to afford such a massive park. But that doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t have access to the lagoon.

Vero Beach’s old power plant sits on 17 acres. Take a walk on the north side of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge, look down and you’ll see how massive the site looks.

In reality, it’s more than twice the size of Fort Pierce’s site. That means, theoretically, any project proposed in Fort Pierce could fit on seven acres adjacent to Indian River Boulevard in Vero Beach, leaving 10 acres for public use along the lagoon.

Three developers are bullish about the Fort Pierce site. Kite, who has developed several hotels including the attractive Hampton Inn near Vero Beach’s Miracle Mile, has the most conservative idea.

He plans a four-story, 100-bed quality brand-name hotel. It would have meeting rooms to seat up to 250 people, 150 more than the Hampton Inn in Vero Beach.

Other buildings would include high-quality restaurants and shops in a village-type atmosphere. The plan would extend the city’s waterfront park west along a canal and south to a large area for community gatherings.

Ultimately, Kite said, King Station (namesake of the former power plant) potentially could connect to a stop for Brightline passenger train service running from Miami to Orlando.

But Kite’s project might not be bodacious enough for some city officials who want to pack downtown with people.

The Framework Group of Tampa proposes a three-story, 200-unit apartment complex; six-story, 120-room hotel; conference center; coffee shop; restaurant and a four-level parking garage.

Redevelopment Management Associates of Pompano Beach proposes a craft brewery with dining on the north side of the property near Moore’s Creek, an 84-room hotel, about 95 apartments facing east toward the marina, 40 town homes along Second Street and a parking garage with a rooftop pool.

I’m not pitching any of these projects for Vero Beach. At least one would require a referendum asking city residents for permission to exceed building height limits. But the proposals should give locals an idea of what could be done.

Vero Beach officials should follow the process closely in Fort Pierce. Will the city lease land to developers or will they sell it? Will there be some kind of partnership?

Regardless of the interest in the property and proposals, there will be a lot of details to be hammered out before any decision is made, perhaps as early as April.

Vero Beach has been discussing what to do with the property at the power plant, sewer and old postal annex across the street for more than two years. Thankfully, the city rejected the idea of putting a gasoline station where the postal annex was.

Lord only knows how long it will take Vero Beach to come up with a plausible plan. Hopefully, it won’t take as long as Fort Pierce has waited.