By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - Hitting double digits can be an exciting milestone in life and Hometown News is no exception. It's celebrating 10 years of bringing hyper-local news to the community.
A decade can bring a lot of change to the landscape of any community, and Indian River County has certainly seen changes in population, unemployment rates, property values, the arts community and more.
In no particular order, here are some of the major highs and lows Hometown News has been a part of with the community over the past 10 years.
Sports stagger, but stats show growth
The annual spring training visit from first the Brooklyn, then the Los Angeles Dodgers was a beloved tradition in Vero Beach for 60 years until the team left for a new home in Arizona in 2008.
The exodus of the major league team left the community with a giant loss of tourist tax revenue and a baseball-size hole in their hearts.
The county-owned property known internationally as Dodgertown was shuttered until Minor League Baseball struck a lease agreement in 2009 to handle day-to-day operations. The vision for the state-of-the-art sports complex was to attract sports teams year-round, not just focus on baseball teams and tournaments.
The facility was rebranded in 2010 as Vero Beach Sports Village and MiLB continued its pursuit of soccer, football, lacrosse, swimming, baseball and softball teams.
In 2011, it became clear that a larger investment was needed in order to make the venture successful, in addition to the construction of youth-size fields for girls' softball and youth baseball tournaments.
Many in Vero Beach cheered when it was announced that former Dodgers president and owner, Peter O'Malley, his sister, Terry Seidler, and former Dodger star pitchers Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo were joining with MiLB at Vero Beach Sports Village.
Economy crashes, struggles to recover
Indian River County was not exempt from a nationwide economic downturn in the mid-to-late 2000s.
The population grew from 112,000 to 145,000 in 2000 through 2010, and has a steady projected pace of 2,700 new residents per year.
In the early 2000s, the housing marketing was booming, construction and related industries were riding the population wave and people were taking advantage of funding opportunities for new houses.
Records show the unemployment rate early in the 2000s dropped below 5 percent, yo-yo'd between 6 and 10 percent for a while, but skyrocketed from below 5 percent to more than 15 percent in less than five years.
Home foreclosure signs have become a normal sight and local nonprofit agencies say the bad economy has led to more individuals and families asking for help with utility bills and food.
Agencies that reach out to homeless individuals and families, such as The Source in Vero Beach say the face of the homeless has changed to younger families struggling to survive without a job.
A recent report showed the unemployment rate might begin to trend back down. Indian River County's rate fell below 10 percent for the first time since December 2008.
Show me the money
One of the county's larger companies, Piper Aircraft, saw highs and lows within its business as well over the past 10 years.
In 2006, the company began considering moving its headquarters from Vero Beach, but a combined $32 million incentive package from the county and the state convinced the company to stay in early 2008. The incentive package had benchmarks the company needed to meet before the funds could be paid, and a little more than $6 million was paid.
As the months turned into years, however, it was clear the recession had badly damaged the aviation industry and employment benchmarks would not be met. The company and the incentive package negotiators from the state and the county have not reached a final agreement if the remaining promised funds will be available should Piper Aircraft meet the benchmarks in the future.
When it rains, it pours
Hurricanes are a part of every Floridian's summer break, but Indian River County was fortunate for many years to only have indirect hurricane activity.
In addition to the economic downturn, in 2004 and 2005, residents became intimately acquainted with hurricanes Jeanne and Frances, and Wilma, and to a lesser extent, Charley and Bonnie.
It was another element that changed the lives of many in Indian River County.
The aftermath of the unprecedented 2004 storms saw many residents go for two weeks without power. The Indian River County emergency management division estimated the cost of damage sustained in 2004 was close to $3 billion.
Seven of 11 fire stations in the county were destroyed or damaged in the hurricanes. Five of the stations had to be rebuilt, a project that wasn't completed until 2009. Station 9 in Roseland was the only station to be rebuilt on a different plot of land. The move was largely due to space constraints on the previous property in Sebastian.
The fire department aggressively pursued grants and requested funds from the county to upgrade and rebuild the station to meet the needs of the county residents and meet new code standards.
Also in 2009, the Gifford community received its own fire station bringing the total number of fire stations in Indian River County to 12, said emergency management staff.
In 2005, Indian River County was included in the presidential declaration of disaster for the second year in a row in 2005 because of hurricane damages.
Power outages were the biggest issue for residents. Residents did not recover from the 2004 hurricanes in time to fortify themselves for the 2005 bout of storms and as a result, residents needed assistance and assistance came from all over the country.
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