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Expansion proposed for Riverside Park tennis complex
week of April 1, 2021

The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation is seeking donors to fund a major renovation and expansion of the city-owned tennis complex in Riverside Park. Plans for the $5.7 million project – which would include construction of a clubhouse and small stadium court that could be used for tennis tournaments and exhibition matches, along with refurbishing existing courts – were first presented to the city last year. The complex would serve as a hub not only for local tennis players – the hard-court facility would not compete with the Vero area’s private clubs, which all have clay courts – but for foundation-funded youth and afterschool programs. The plan was put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March 2020 and shut down much of the economy, but the Mardy Fish foundation is now going public with its proposal. READ FULL STORY

Boardwalk south of Jaycee Park getting overhaul
week of April 1, 2021

The Conn Beach boardwalk just south of Jaycee Park is getting a major overhaul and will be closed one portion at a time from now through mid-June. This stretch of boardwalk, always popular, has become more popular than ever this past year as walkers sought safe, outdoor and socially distanced avenues for exercise and a change of scenery during the pandemic. It is “one of the most heavily used recreation facilities in the area,” said Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls. The 1,460-linear-foot renovation will extend from the southernmost end – the part already closed and under repair – to the flagpole near Jaycee Park. “The whole boardwalk will not be closed at once,” said Assistant Public Works Director Richard Mutterback on Monday. “It is the goal of the project to maintain as much access to the boardwalk for the public as possible throughout the project. “As one section is nearing completion, they will start on removal of the decking from the next similar section [between access points], and they will continue in this manner as they progress north.” READ FULL STORY

More excuses, little progress, on A1A road-widening and resurfacing project
week of April 1, 2021

As the island cruises through the heart of its busy season, the fluorescent orange construction barrels that line A1A seem to have become a permanent part of the landscape – a situation intensely frustrating for drivers faced with confusing traffic lanes and unpredictable backups while no tangible progress occurs. The Florida Department of Transportation has offered a series of excuses for why no work is being done and said repeatedly the project is ahead of schedule, but regardless, there is no question improvements on the island’s main thoroughfare have stalled in recent months. Throughout the first 90 days of 2021, Vero Beach 32963 readers have been phoning and emailing this newspaper, asking why no work is being done on the state-funded, $6.7 million road-widening and resurfacing project that began in June. As of last week, Florida Department of Transportation officials continued to say the project – which covers a 6.74-mile stretch from just north of the Vero Beach city line to just north of Wabasso Beach and includes the construction of 7-foot-wide bicycle lanes on both sides of the road – is progressing ahead of schedule and will be completed this summer. READ FULL STORY

‘Pinky’ Regan, a year after COVID, out on town again
week of April 1, 2021

A year after the pandemic came to our island when Barbara “Pinky” Regan was confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, she is back out enjoying Vero’s reviving social scene. But she says her bout with the virus was difficult and has had lasting effects. “It’s been a long haul. My taste is altered, and I’m tired – but that could be just because I’m getting older,” says Regan. Besides having less energy and getting periodic stomach aches, she’s had to deal with an aversion to several things she previously loved – wine, orange juice and coffee. “Some people lose their sense of taste. I could taste; I just didn’t like the taste,” Regan told Vero Beach 32963 last week. “I loved coffee, but it tasted horrible to me. I had to learn to like that again.” It was in early March of last year that word began to circulate at clubs Regan frequents – John’s Island, Quail Valley, and the Vero Beach Bridge Center – that she had fallen ill with COVID-19, which was just beginning to raise alarms in the United States. READ FULL STORY

Island COVID-19 cases down slightly
week of April 1, 2021

With places around the globe reporting an uptick in cases, or even a post-spring break surge in COVID-19 infections, Indian River County held steady this past week with an average of 24 new infections reported each day, and hospitalizations from the virus in the single digits. Ten barrier island residents tested positive over the past week, down slightly from recent weeks. The case positivity rate countywide increased slightly, with the percentage of people tested turning out positive inching above 5 percent on seven out of the past 14 days. But the overall positivity rate remained well under 10 percent, which has been seen as the threshold causing increased concern from public health officials. Vaccinations continued at full steam with people age 50 and older eligible to get the shot last week, and people age 40 and older eligible as of Monday. More than 58,000 local residents had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine as of last weekend. READ FULL STORY

New memory care facility preparing to open on U.S. 1 in May
week of April 1, 2021

Another assisted living facility is opening on U.S. 1 in Indian River County, this time a dedicated memory care center offering space for 64 residents. Certus Senior Living, a Sanford-based company with three similar properties in Mount Dora, Orange City and northeast Orlando, is expecting its certificate of occupancy for the property just a short distance north of Grand Harbor “any day, any minute,” according to marketing director Deirdre Murray. The project has been underway since at least 2018, when it won conceptual plan approval from Indian River County’s planning and zoning commission. It follows on the heels of another recently opened assisted living facility, the Promenade, with 116 beds, including some for memory care, a few miles north of Certus on U.S. 1 in Sebastian. That facility opened last August, just weeks after the county experienced a frightening COVID-19 surge in July. READ FULL STORY

Six apply for open seat on Vero Beach City Council
week of April 1, 2021

Six men are seeking to serve out the seven months remaining in former Vero councilman Joe Graves’ term, and they reflect Vero’s past, its present and its future. Two ex-city officials – one-term councilman Brian Heady and three-term councilman and former mayor Dick Winger – both want to mount a comeback, to infuse the four sitting council members with their strong views and experience in government and their pre-retirement careers. Winger, who while on council frequently boasted about his varied corporate experiences, submitted a five-page resume listing 18 different jobs, plus military experience, and an objective of “Participatory Retirement, Stay Active.” Heady didn’t turn in a resume but noted that he’s very interested in utilities issues and that his “most important educational experience was two years on city council.” In fact, those years made such an impression that Heady wrote a book about his adventures in and with city government. READ FULL STORY

New oceanfront development off to blazing start
week of March 25, 2021

The island’s latest luxury oceanfront development is off to an extraordinary start. New developments typically take years to sell out, sometimes decades, but eight of 21 units at Indigo already have been reserved less than two months after sales opened. “We expect to be sold out by the end of the year,” says Fernando de Nunez y Lugones, executive vice president and chief economist at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, the brokerage handling sales at Indigo. Developer Yane Zana goes further. “At the current pace, we could very well be sold out by the time we break ground this summer.” “The level of interest has been exceptional,” says Kristine Gabor, the Sotheby’s agent in charge of sales at the development. Located south of Tracking Station Park on a 4-acre parcel that previously was home to a marine research facility, Indigo is a mix of detached villas and condominium units that range in price from $2 million to $3.5 million. Vero buyers typically have been slow to purchase units in new, multifamily developments before construction begins, but in this case a compelling set of circumstances has steamrolled that hesitancy. READ FULL STORY

Downtown Fridays: Another step on road back
week of March 25, 2021

Another mainstay of Vero small town life is making a welcome return this week after a long pandemic shutdown as the monthly street fair on 14th Avenue known as Downtown Fridays resumes at 5:45 p.m., with food, drinks, music and vendors. The downtown art gallery and dining district has survived the pandemic mostly intact, according to Susan Gromis, executive director of Main Street Vero Beach, which puts on the street fair. “We had a few closures along 14th Avenue, but we had new businesses coming in too. And a couple that did close had already been talking about closing before COVID,” said Gromis, who says she has seen a visible uptick in foot traffic along Main Street in recent weeks. The first Downtown Friday in many months comes in the wake of a successful First Friday Gallery Stroll in March. “We had over 100 people come through during the recent March stroll,” which is only 50 fewer than pre-COVID, Gromis reports. If you decide to head out to the downtown street fair this Friday, you’ll find things much the same as in the past, but with fewer vendors and food trucks to allow for more social distancing. READ FULL STORY

Simon Caldecott, driving force behind resurgence of Piper Aircraft, retiring
week of March 25, 2021

Piper Aircraft’s announcement this week that President and CEO Simon Caldecott will retire on April 2 didn’t merely mark the departure of the driving force behind the decade-long resurgence of the county’s largest private-sector employer. It was a reminder of how Piper nearly lost its way. Even though he was only interim president and CEO when he arrived in 2011, Caldecott didn’t hesitate to make a major course correction in the company’s flight path. Correctly reading industry trends in the midst of a recession that hit the aircraft industry hard, Caldecott immediately halted Piper’s ill-fated venture into a once-trendy-but-faltering, small jet market. “Clearly,” Caldecott said at the time, “the market for light jets is not recovering sufficiently and quickly enough to allow us to continue developing the program under the economic circumstances we face.” Instead, under Caldecott’s direction, Piper turned its focus to its M-Class line of single-engine, cabin-class business aircraft – launching the luxurious M600 turboprop that has become a huge seller and the company’s flagship product – and expanded its offerings in the now-burgeoning trainer aircraft market. READ FULL STORY

Skyborne has big plans in taking over FlightSafety Academy
week of March 25, 2021

Skyborne Aviation will focus on attracting American students who want to work as commercial pilots for U.S.-based airlines when it takes over Vero’s largest flight training school, Skyborne chief executive officer Lee Woodward told Vero Beach 32963. Skyborne is purchasing the faltering FlightSafety Academy, where in recent years most students came from outside the United States with many of them sponsored by airlines in their home countries. “We’re a British company, but our plan is to make a massive effort in the U.S. market to develop U.S. pilots, especially for U.S. airlines,” Woodward said. “We have a very airline-centric philosophy,” he added, “and we already enjoy successful working relationships with several U.S. carriers, including at least four that have expressed interest in creating pathway programs. “With that philosophy and those relationships – along with our team of talented instructors – we want to really energize the U.S. market.” The enthusiasm in Woodward’s voice was unmistakable throughout a 30-minute trans-Atlantic phone call on which he discussed his company’s plans to restore Vero Beach’s diminished stature in the pilot-training industry. READ FULL STORY

‘Experience’ in obstruction not what Vero city council needs
week of March 25, 2021

The Vero Beach City Council said last week that they want to appoint someone “experienced” to fill the seat vacated by Councilman Joe Graves, who resigned because he’s moving outside the city limits. But experience with a previous era’s problems does not necessarily equate to wise judgment in today’s big decisions. Graves might not have been the most seasoned or sage council member – he was thin-skinned at times when criticized and he sometimes over-inflated the importance of being a municipal official in a small burg of 18,000 people – but he possessed several qualities that made him a good fit for rapidly evolving situations that the council finds itself dealing with these days. While on the council, Graves generally approached issues with an open mind. He knew how to seek and accept counsel, and he listened to differing opinions. Graves was not afraid to admit what he did not know. He also was not afraid to change his mind should facts change, or if his position evolved over time. Those are attributes the city council members should be looking for as Vero navigates the ongoing pandemic, and major decisions regarding the future of the city’s riverfront utility sites. Instead, they seem stuck on “experience” as their number one criteria. READ FULL STORY

COVID-19 cases continue trending down as more residents vaccinated
week of March 25, 2021

Indian River County experienced another encouraging week of downward-trending case numbers and rising vaccinations as Florida surpassed two million COVID-19 cases statewide this week. Countywide only 148 positive cases of the virus were reported, just 21 per day on average, down from the mid-20s the past two weeks. Thirteen of this week’s cases hailed from the 32963 ZIP code. The case positivity rate remained in the low single digits, rising above 5 percent only three times in the past two weeks. Nearly 5,000 people got a jab of COVID-19 vaccine during the past week, with more than 52,000 people now being partially or fully vaccinated. Looking at the combined number of people vaccinated and those who have recovered from COVID-19 the past few months, about one in three Indian River County residents should have some level of immunity to the virus. Only four people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19 in the past week, and as of Monday evening the total daily hospitalizations with COVID-19 were 13. This number has remained low for more than a month. READ FULL STORY

Kerry Bartlett appointed to replace Tracey Zudans on Hospital District
week of March 25, 2021

Kerry Bartlett, a consultant on philanthropy and prominent figure in the local nonprofit realm, has been named by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Tracey Zudans on the Indian River County Hospital District Board. Bartlett brings significant experience in the nonprofit world to the seven-member volunteer board. She was the first executive director of the Indian River Community Foundation and has held development posts with the VNA of the Treasure Coast and the United Way of Indian River County. A certified fundraising executive with a degree from the University of Florida, she maintains her own philanthropy consulting firm while part of the Vero-based consultancy, Carter. “She’s got a tremendous amount of experience in the community in fund-raising and development strategies,” said Ann Marie McCrystal, a District Board trustee who worked with Bartlett when both were at the VNA, where McCrystal served as chairman of the VNA’s foundation for many years. “Kerry is a true professional because she’s educated herself in the field ... and knows a lot about the nonprofit world,” said McCrystal. “She knows about the agencies and what they do for our community. READ FULL STORY

Funding doubled for addiction treatment center
week of March 25, 2021

The Hospital District board has unanimously agreed to double its funding of Phoenix Rising Wellness Center, increasing the addiction treatment center’s capacity to treat indigent clients with substance abuse problems. The Hospital District board voted to give the center an additional $200,000 for the fiscal year ending in October. That is on top of the $220,000 in Hospital District funding already in place for this year. The vote came after trustees heard appeals from the center’s medical director and case manager, as well as a testimonial from an intake manager who is a graduate of the program. “My family wrote me off a long time ago and if it wasn’t for Phoenix giving me a shot, I don’t know if I’d be alive today,” said the graduate, introduced as Misty, who came to the program when it began and remains sober. “I wanted to say how much I appreciate [your support] on a personal level,” Misty told the board. Phoenix Rising opened in the summer of 2018 and, six months later, its young founder, Pedro Bernabe, made his first presentation to the Hospital District. READ FULL STORY

Is pending bill aimed at eliminating Hospital District?
week of March 25, 2021

A piece of legislation moving through the state legislature could prove an existential threat to hospital districts, local officials are warning. The Special District Accountability Act would require a performance audit every five years on independent taxing districts like the Hospital District. The proposed audit, taking effect in October, would cost hospital districts between $20,000 and $50,000, depending on their size. The audit would come on top of the district’s existing annual financial audits. The bill appears to be aimed at eliminating replication of existing county services, among other things. But district officials – and advocates for special taxing districts – believe the bill’s true intention may be to shut down hospital districts altogether. The bill states results of the performance audit would be sent to Florida’s auditor general and leaders of the House and Senate. In an email sent to the 16 agencies the Hospital District funds, including Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, Hospital District executive director Ann Marie Suriano warned that aspects of the bill could have “great impact” on the district. READ FULL STORY

Sheriff Flowers forming a ‘Citizen Advisory Committee’
week of March 25, 2021

Sheriff Eric Flowers will soon announce the creation of a Citizen Advisory Committee he hopes will improve communication between county residents and his agency by allowing the panel to review policies and procedures and, when appropriate, offer recommendations. The committee – believed to be the first in the agency’s history – will not have oversight responsibility, however, nor will it participate in the Sheriff’s Office’s active cases. Flowers, who was elected in November to his first term as sheriff, did not respond to questions about his motivations for forming the committee, how it will be structured, how members will be selected and its mission. But a public records request filed earlier this month by Vero Beach 32963 produced 33 pages of Sheriff’s Office documents related to the committee – including a series of emails in which Flowers asked all five county commissioners in January to nominate up to three candidates to serve on the panel. READ FULL STORY

At last, events restarting here after long year
week of March 18, 2021

The unwanted visitor with the strange name came to Vero on Friday the 13th. For the superstitious, the date somehow seemed fitting because in the span of only a few hours last March, COVID-19 caused the shutdown of three of Vero’s biggest events, turning away crowds of more than 100,000 – equivalent to two-thirds of the county’s population. That same day, Florida schools were closed, flights from most of Europe were halted and cruises were canceled. But it was the closure of three hugely popular happenings – the Under the Oaks art show, the Firefighters Fair and a big Broadway musical at Riverside Theatre – that foreshadowed a long year of dramatic changes to our community’s social, arts and entertainment scene. However, now, almost exactly a year later, there were signs last week of Vero slowly coming back to life. READ FULL STORY

Nearly 80 percent of county seniors have received jab
week of March 18, 2021

With more than 1,100 shots in arms per day on average in Indian River County over the past week, nearly 80 percent of the county’s 53,000 seniors 65 and older have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Those vaccination efforts – which opened up to those age 60 and older on Monday – are presumably keeping the new infection count low, as for the second week in a row the average number of reported infections has been 24 per day. The barrier island accounted for 13 out of the county’s 156 new cases during the past week. In other good news, the daily case positivity rate only ventured above 5 percent two out of the past 14 days, with the highest rate being 5.17 percent on March 7 and the lowest being 2.66 percent on March 5. The daily hospitalization rate remained in the teens as of press time Monday, a fraction of the 50-plus people in the daily hospital census during the post-Christmas holiday surge. READ FULL STORY

COVID pandemic has changed life in significant ways
week of March 18, 2021

One year, more than 11,300 reported infections and 272 COVID-19 deaths later, Indian River County has come through the first 12 months of the pandemic better than many locales. Nevertheless, life here has changed in significant ways. Local government facilities took lockdown measures seriously last spring, shielding employees from the public altogether, then gradually opening offices up by appointment, with masks and temperature checks. But some services are still completely online or on a grab-and-go basis with drop boxes, digital forms and lobby pick-up arrangements to reduce personal contact. Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett is growing impatient with limitations placed on city operations and on the community in general that have persisted for many months. As a business owner and an elected official, Brackett said he, like many in our community, had to be out and about, taking care of business in-person even during the precarious summer 2020 and post-holiday surges of COVID infections. “I hope none of this becomes permanent procedure,” Brackett said “I don’t take the pandemic lightly – I had the virus, my parents had it and I was very concerned about them. But I hate the ‘new normal’ and how we’ve gotten away from personal contact. I want the normal back, not the new normal.” READ FULL STORY

Teel lawsuit against sheriff’s office moves a step closer to trial
week of March 18, 2021

A $10 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against the sheriff’s office and a deputy who fatally shot a Vero Beach doctor’s wife in 2017 has moved closer to trial after court-ordered mediation failed to produce a settlement. Todd Norbraten, one of the attorneys representing Dr. Dudley Teel, said the mediation was held Feb. 25 via Zoom conferencing, adding that he could not elaborate because federal law requires the contents of such sessions to remain confidential. For that reason, Norbraten was prohibited from saying how long the session lasted and whether the parties came close to settling the lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court in West Palm Beach. Norbraten said there was “no other movement” in the case since the failed mediation. If no settlement is reached in the coming weeks, the trial won’t begin for at least two months – because a COVID-19-prompted administrative order issued in February by Chief Judge K. Michael Moore of the U.S. Southern District of Florida postponed all civil-court jury trials until May 3. READ FULL STORY

Shores seeks help from consultant in exploring its water-sewer options
week of March 18, 2021

In two and a half years, Indian River Shores must decide whether its breach of contract dispute with the City of Vero Beach Utilities over water rates is reason to move on to a different utility partner. To help inform that decision, the Shores was preparing to hire a consulting firm to explore the town’s options. The Shores’ 15-year water-sewer franchise agreement with Vero is up for renewal in October 2027, and it requires a four-year termination notice if the Shores opts to join Indian River County Utilities instead. County officials bid for the Shores’ business in 2011 but with growth countywide, and Vero’s water infrastructure in the town a decade older, it’s unclear if the county still has the desire or the ability to serve Indian River Shores in 2027 and beyond. Shores Councilman John McCord gave Vero an ultimatum last month, urging Vero to consolidate services with Indian River County or threatening that the Shores would exit Vero’s system in 2027. READ FULL STORY

Three more Beachland Elementary students test positive for COVID-19
week of March 18, 2021

Three Beachland Elementary students tested positive for COVID-19 and 17 classmates were quarantined last week in the most serious outbreak of the virus this year at the island’s only public school. That brings the total number of COVID-19 cases at Beachland Elementary this school year to 13, according to Florida Department of Health reports, or nine, according to school district press releases. Some parents said Friday they believe the school has done a good job containing COVID-19 and notifying them about cases, but others said they were unaware of last Wednesday’s outbreak and were concerned for their children’s health. “I didn’t know about it, but I’m not happy because it’s contagious and I have a child in that school,” said Sandy Brachfeld, whose granddaughter is a fourth-grader at Beachland Elementary. “She’s vulnerable.” Deangilo Williams, who has a daughter in third grade and son in fifth grade at Beachland Elementary, said: “Knowing that they can bring it home without knowing and nobody notified us about the COVID cases is pretty strange. I had absolutely no idea and I bring them to school every day.” READ FULL STORY

Vaccination recommended even for those who have had coronavirus
week of March 18, 2021

One shot? Two shots? Or no shot for barrier island residents who had COVID-19 and have since recovered? A panel of doctors who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention debated earlier this month whether or not to change the guidance the agency issues for the use of the three COVID-19 vaccines. Several members of the panel feel strongly that having COVID-19 acts as the patient’s “first dose” of vaccine, so all they need is a booster shot. But no studies have produced enough data to convince the majority of the panel. Two Cleveland Clinic specialists advise patients who have recovered from the virus to get protected just like people who have not yet been infected. That would mean getting two shots of Pfizer or Moderna or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. “We still recommend that you get the vaccine even if you’ve had COVID-19. However, you may consider waiting 90 days after getting infected as it’s not common to get COVID-19 again within three months of first being infected,” said Dr. Richard Rothman, chair of hospital medicine for Cleveland Clinic Florida region. Rothman heads up Cleveland Clinic’s COVID Operations and Recover Task Force, and his advice echoes the CDC’s current guidance. READ FULL STORY

Vero boatbuilder cited for dumping oil and gasoline
week of March 18, 2021

A state environmental health inspector has issued a civil citation against MR Marine Boatworks in Vero Beach for six violations of state anti-pollution laws against discharging oil and gasoline on the ground outside the shop. David Martin, who said he worked at the boat repair facility on Old Dixie Highway for about eight months before being fired, contacted the Florida Department of Health in February to report that the shop dumped at least 150 gallons of boat fuel on the ground and allowed used oil to leak from a holding tank and soak into the ground when it rained. Martin said he reported the problems to his bosses, but they ignored him. “I told them ‘you can’t be dumping this ****,’” Martin said. “They ignored me month after month.” Martin provided photographs to Charles Vogt of the Health Department showing what appeared to be puddles of oil and gas on the property. Vogt, along with Indian River County senior stormwater inspector Todd Tardif, visited the site last month and cited business owner Ronald D’Haeseleer Sr. for discharging pollutants into surface and groundwaters; creating a public health hazard; and improper storage and disposal of used oil. READ FULL STORY

Public schools $280 million behind on maintenance
week of March 18, 2021

Indian River County’s public schools need $280 million worth of deferred improvements and $8.4 million in annual investment to keep from falling further behind. However, the school district has budgeted just $6 million for facilities in 2021-2022 and doesn’t plan to increase the annual facilities amount to $8.5 million until 2030-2031, records show. So, despite $72 million in projected spending in the next decade, the tab for deficient facilities is expected to keep getting larger – increasing by $14.5 million to $295 million by 2030-2031, records show. To avoid that eye-popping deficit, the school district must ramp up annual spending on facilities, or plan for a major building and renovation program, to keep pace with deterioration, said Tracy Richter, an educational facility planning expert. Richter, of HPM Planning Services in Dublin, Ohio, spent the past year analyzing the school district’s building data to lay the groundwork for formulating a long-range facilities master plan. A wild card in the long-range planning process is how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect birth rates and school enrollment trends in the future, said Richter. READ FULL STORY

County pushing back on $134 million in state-mandated lagoon cleanup costs
week of March 18, 2021

The county is looking at being required to spend $134 million on lagoon cleanup – more than twice the $60 million it had anticipated – after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection revised its lagoon repair plan last month. Commissioners at a meeting two weeks ago voted 4-1 to continue talks with FDEP aimed at reducing the county’s costs, with Commissioner Peter O’Bryan favoring more aggressive action such as filing a legal objection. The county had been given a deadline of March 16 to challenge the FDEP’s new Basin Management Action Plan for cleaning up the central lagoon over the next five years. Commissioners sought an extension to negotiate further with the agency, arguing that its pollution modeling is wrong and its targets unrealistic. READ FULL STORY

Replica of Hemingway’s fishing boat coming to Vero
week of March 11, 2021

A 21st century replica of Ernest Hemingway’s fishing boat Pilar – almost as famous as Hemingway himself and the only boat the iconic author ever owned – is scheduled to make an overnight stop at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina on Monday, March 22, on her way down the coast. Launched in Brooklin, Maine, the 38-foot wooden vessel will occupy a slip at the Vero Marina, where it will be available for viewing, but not boarding. The original Pilar currently is on display, up on blocks, at Hemingway‘s former home, Finca la Vagia, just outside Havana, Cuba. The visit to Vero of this model of 1930s nautical elegance, appropriately named Legend, highlights Vero Beach’s connection to the Pilar saga in the person of Sea Oaks resident Eugene Wheeler Jr., a member of the Wheeler Yacht Company family which custom built the original vessel for a 34-year-old Hemingway. While Legend’s incredibly elegant outward appearance would have been familiar to Hemingway, today’s materials, systems technology and luxurious appointments – along with Legend’s top speed of 34.5 mph, more than double Pilar’s 13 mph – would have stunned the author. READ FULL STORY

New COVID cases at lowest level here since Halloween
week of March 11, 2021

As the world marks one year since declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic, the coronavirus situation here continues to improve, with new infections at the lowest level since Halloween. Only 162 people tested positive for the coronavirus in Indian River County last week – averaging 23 per day – down from an average of 34 per day the previous week. Twelve barrier island residents tested positive in the seven days leading up to Monday press time. The county’s case positivity rate remained below 5 percent nine of the past 14 days, with the highest rate being 7.41 percent. Current daily hospitalizations remained in the teens on Monday afternoon. Nearly 500 people per day were vaccinated, bringing the total of people here who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 43,581. Of those vaccinated, 37,962 or 87 percent were age 65 and older. On Monday, people between the ages of 60 and 64 will get their chance to get their first shot as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced demand for vaccine appointments had softened enough to lower the age hurdle a bit. That means about 2 million more Floridians potentially in the queue. READ FULL STORY

School district kept principal’s COVID secret for two weeks
week of March 11, 2021

Vero Beach High School Principal Shawn O’Keefe’s COVID-19 hospitalization was kept a secret from the public for more than two weeks despite his potential to have been an asymptomatic super-spreader as leader of Indian River County’s most populous public institution. O’Keefe’s diagnosis wasn’t reflected in the school district’s routine press releases reporting COVID-19 cases in the public schools until Feb. 24, after repeated inquiries by Vero Beach 32963. After the paper was prepared to report on his condition, O’Keefe issued a statement alluding to a stay at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and announcing his intention to return to work last week at Vero Beach High School – making no mention of his diagnosis. Neither O’Keefe nor School Superintendent David Moore responded to telephone and email messages Friday asking whether he had returned to work and why his diagnosis was kept secret for so long. School district officials earlier invoked the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) as the reason for keeping O’Keefe’s diagnosis secret even though the law doesn’t apply to employers, schools, or school districts. READ FULL STORY

Grand Harbor: A tangible sense of resurgence and community pride
week of March 11, 2021

Grand Harbor members are feeling good about the future of their club. Just three and a half months after negotiating the purchase of the country club’s facilities and the takeover of its operations from New York-based Icahn Enterprises, there is a tangible sense of resurgence and community pride. “There’s a real renaissance going on here,” newly hired General Manager Michael Gibson said last week. “It’s too bad the members had to go through what they went through, but that’s all in the past now. We’re changing the culture, changing attitudes and moving forward with our vision. “This is a wonderful community with outstanding amenities and a bunch of people who want to make Grand Harbor great again.” Gibson, who was hired to replace Icahn’s Chris Hull when the members took control of the club on Dec. 1, previously worked as the GM at the Old Marsh Club in Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Grove Golf & Tennis Club in Boca Raton prior to holding the same position at The Golf Club at Turner Hill in Ipswich, Mass. READ FULL STORY

Vero Beach Regional Airport thriving; launching ad campaign to raise profile
week of March 11, 2021

Despite the pandemic, Vero Beach Regional Airport is visibly thriving, with private jet traffic up, more than $12 million in construction underway or about to begin, and a customs facility that will open the field to international flights moving forward. An ad agency has been hired to market the airport to additional tenants – even as space is being created for them – and a British pilot training organization is taking over the faltering FlightSafety Academy, with a promise to build “the No. 1 flight training school” in the United States. Elite Airways had to shut down for a time and had fewer flights over the past year, but it survived and currently is flying from Vero to Newark, New Jersey, and Portland, Maine, with some upcoming flights to Newark sold out well ahead of time. “The airport is financially sound, and we are working hard to make sure it stays that way,” says Todd Scher, who took over as airport director in January after decades working in a range of positions at the city-owned airport, most recently as assistant airport director. READ FULL STORY

C-section rates improve dramatically at Cleveland Clinic
week of March 11, 2021

The improvement couldn’t have come at a more welcome time. As Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital was doing all it could to prevent unnecessary hospital stays during COVID-19, a dedicated team in maternal health managed to reduce by a third the number of C-sections in first-time, low-risk deliveries. The 10-point reduction – from 31 percent in 2019 to 21 percent in 2020 – earned the hospital recognition at a statewide conference. The good news was reported by Megan McFall, director of women’s health at the hospital, at last month’s Indian River County Hospital District board meeting. The rate bested the target of 23.9 percent set by the Healthy People 2020 national initiative. So far, only a fifth of Florida’s hospitals have achieved that goal. The goal was surpassed here through a year-long collaborative effort led by McFall and a team she assembled that included obstetricians from both private practice as well as the hospital’s Partners in Women’s Health clinic, which gets support for prenatal care from the hospital district. The team had the guidance of the Florida Perinatal Quality Collaborative, part of the University of South Florida’s College of Public Health. READ FULL STORY

New project underway at south end of county
week of March 11, 2021

A long-delayed island subdivision is finally getting underway with a flurry of home sales in recent weeks. Vero Beach Ocean Club sold two luxury condos and eight estate homes worth nearly $20 million in the past two weeks in the ocean-to-river subdivision just south of the Indian River County line. A tunnel beneath A1A that can accommodate golf carts is a key selling point of the project because it allows residents to travel back and forth between the ocean and river sides of the subdivision without worrying about traffic, said Fredric Bernstein, a principal with Vero Beach Ocean Club LLC of Stuart. “I’m giving a golf cart with each house and each condo,” Bernstein said. “It makes it easy for people to enjoy the beach or the intracoastal, wherever they live in the community.” The developer anticipates starting construction shortly on 31 estate homes on a 43.5-acre tract on the west side of A1A, just south of the Indian River County line. READ FULL STORY

Longtime island banker and nonprofit leader Scott Alexander retiring from Northern Trust
week of March 11, 2021

After five decades in banking, including 13 years in Vero Beach, Scott Alexander is retiring as regional president of Northern Trust, effective March 31. Besides managing money, during his time here Alexander has been deeply engaged with the community, serving multiple terms on the boards of high-profile nonprofits including Riverside Theatre, the Vero Beach Museum of Art, the Indian River Community Foundation, the United Way of Indian River County, Indian River Medical Center Foundation and the Gifford Youth Achievement Center. He is quick to credit the team at Northern Trust for enabling him to be so involved with the nonprofits, beginning, he said, on day one, when his predecessor, Bob Bauchman, introduced him to the late Richard Stark. Alexander recalled that during that meeting, Stark told him, “You need to be on the board of Riverside Theatre.” When Alexander acquiesced, Stark picked up the phone, called someone and said, “Put Alexander on the board.” “And so, they did. That was so Dick,” said Alexander, who served six years on that board. “He was one of my mentors here in town. We would talk with some frequency and he looked out for me in a lovely way. What a great guy.” READ FULL STORY