By Jessica Creagan
VERO BEACH -- A nonprofit group wants to further encourage development of the downtown Vero Beach arts district and boost the economy and tourism by creating a cultural arts center.
Members of the Cultural Council of Indian River County are presenting this idea to various groups in town and seeking public support of a project that would turn the old and vacant diesel power plant into a building and property bursting at the seams with working artists and art of all genres.
So far there have been nearly 2,000 petitions signed in favor of converting the diesel plant into the center, and people are very positive about the concept, said Susan Grandpierre, one of the project leaders.
The vision for the building is to first renovate it into galleries and studio spaces for working artists that would be contracted to work a certain number of hours so the visiting public would be able to see art being created, she said.
"I think it would be a catalyst for the downtown area and the Vero Beach arts district. In economic terms, it would bring more people in and more restaurants could be built," Ms. Grandpierre said.
The building itself was built in the 1920s and is an local icon, so fining a new use for it in the community would help preserve another historic building, she said.
Ross Power, another member of the project team, has had previous experience developing buildings into attractive art centers in South Florida. Mr. Power, who came to Vero Beach 10 years ago, says he is extremely excited for Vero Beach's potential to become an artisan's paradise.
"In my opinion, Vero Beach is now poised and ready for a cultural arts center, when it wasn't 10 years ago," Mr. Power said.
The grassroots effort to build the arts and dining business community, as well as the recent development of quality hotels has grown strong enough that a cultural arts center would set off an explosion of interest in Vero Beach as a cultural arts destination, he said.
In addition to having working artists renting space in the cultural arts center, Mr. Power said the plans also include a glass-blowing factory onsite, culinary art classes, rehearsal space for music and dance arts, live performances in an outdoor amphitheater, and a location to host film, art, book and music festivals.
"Ten years ago, there wasn't this buzz around town for the hotels and restaurants and arts. Now the buzz is there and I believe we're ready to shift gears," Mr. Power said.
Project member George Paxton said the 8,800-square foot building and surrounding property is not currently available to be leased and is in the middle of a lawsuit between the city of Vero Beach and a developer that purchased the property, Croom Construction, but that the Cultural Council wants to have an excellently prepared plan in place when the proper time comes.
The entire capital campaign to renovate the building and grounds is estimated to be $5 million, he said.
The project team members are hoping the cultural arts center will eventually be as successful as the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va.
For more information about the Cultural Council of Indian River County, visit www.cultural-council.org.