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Elite VIPR team bolsters security at Vero Airport
week of July 28, 2016

Members of the same tactical security team that helps guard the Super Bowl and the Presidential Inauguration can be seen, at times, on patrol at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. It’s just one of the many changes since December when Vero added commercial passenger airline service three to four days per week via Elite Airways, said Airport Director Eric Menger. The police squad, which has a tongue-twisting name with a James-Bondish acronym – Transportation Security Administration Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Team (VIPR) – works with airport personnel and local law enforcement when they’re in town. “The VIPR team is a subsection of TSA that is there right now with weapons at Vero Beach Airport in combat-type gear to provide a visible security deterrent,” Menger told city officials the morning of July 15 when four members of the VIPR team conducted operations in Vero. “This is new to us,” Menger said. “We’ve still got of course the Vero Beach Police Department, and we’ve got the normal TSA guys, but now we’ve got VIPR periodically coming by, and those guys do provide that visual deterrent. I think a lot of it just has to do with world events . . . they’ve kind-of stepped that up a little bit.” READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center plans major expansion
week of July 28, 2016

Sebastian River Medical Center is about to get a lot bigger, adding 10 operating rooms and 48 patient rooms in a 94,000-square-foot expansion. The expansion will include a three-story center tower containing the new private rooms and the operating suite – which will include seven surgical suites, two endoscopy rooms and one bronchoscopy procedure room, all intended to dramatically increase the number and scope of procedures performed at the Sebastian hospital. Groundbreaking on the $64 million project is set for Aug. 29. “We are excited our expansion project is about to begin,” says hospital CEO Kelly Enriquez. “This expansion will enhance our ability to continue delivering quality care and maintain our commitment to our community into the future.” In addition to the new construction, some 20,000 square feet of existing space will be renovated during the construction project. With the renovation and the addition of the three-story tower, the hospital will have 200 licensed beds, about twice as many as when it opened 42 years ago. READ FULL STORY


Man who died in parking lot tried to summon aid
week of July 28, 2016

An investigation into the death of a 48-year-old California man in the CVS drugstore parking lot on A1A in Indian River Shores is now closed, attributed to apparent heart failure triggered by an excess of alcohol. When Randall Clark was found dead behind the wheel of a Jaguar around 6 p.m. on March 30 and staff from CVS tried to resuscitate him, the hazard lights were blinking on the car, said Detective Kip Benham of the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department. It is unknown how long Clark lingered in the car with the blinkers on – an apparent effort to summon help, according to police – while patrons went in and out of the store without noticing. It was only when a friend of the family, who had been alerted that Clark was missing and had possibly gone to CVS, recognized the license-plate frame on his car that Clark was found. The official cause of death stated by Dr. Linda O’Neill of the Medical Examiner’s Office in a July 20 report was probable cardiac dysrhythmia due to “chronic ethanolism,” a term synonymous with chronic alcoholism. Police said the alcohol level in his body was nearly four times the legal limit for a DUI. READ FULL STORY


License plate cameras prove a challenge
week of July 28, 2016

A month after Indian River Shores public safety department received a set of license plate cameras procured to photograph the tags of all vehicles entering and leaving the city – and linking the images to a statewide crime database – the system still is not operating as planned. From technology challenges to state agency red tape, Indian River Shores public safety officers have learned a lesson in perseverance since the Town Council approved the $70,000 camera system last fall. First of all, the Florida Department of Transportation nixed the idea of having the cameras – which have captured images of roughly 200,000 license plates plus continuous video of vehicle traffic in and out of the Shores on A1A since the system became partially operational – mounted on the state right of way. Regrouping, the Shores negotiated agreements with property owners to place the cameras on private property. “But that 18 feet [setback from the road] made a big difference in how the cameras worked and how they had to be aimed,” Police Chief Rich Rosell said. READ FULL STORY


New resort planned for southern end of island
week of July 28, 2016

Developer George Heaton, who built the Vero Beach Hotel & Spa on Ocean Drive, has just submitted plans to St. Lucie County for an ambitious project that includes a 10-story, 160-room hotel, 45 condos, nine cottages and two restaurants on 12 acres at the old Radisson Hotel site at the southern end of our barrier island. Heaton, who is building the Tarpon Flats subdivision a short distance north of the hotel site, said he has a contract on the hotel property, slated to close in the fall, and that he plans to start construction in spring 2017. He is currently taking deposits from prospective buyers of the condos and cottages. Heaton is buying the oceanfront land from Las Vegas heavyweight billionaire Phil Ruffin, who owns Treasure Island casino on the Vegas Strip and is pals with Donald Trump. He said the project, named Orchid Beach Resort, will cost approximately $70 million. He hopes to get site plan approval from St. Lucie County in November. READ FULL STORY


New owner floats diverse ideas for old Press Journal building
week of July 28, 2016

One of the most recognizable landmarks on U.S. 1 in Vero Beach may soon be undergoing a rebirth. Developer Bill Summers says he’s nearly ready to submit a mixed-use plan to the city to remake the old Press Journal newspaper building, but he’s waiting for a tenant – either commercial or residential will do – to sign a check and commit to the project. The local daily abandoned its one-time flagship building last year amid falling circulation, shrinking staff and a continuing consolidation into the Stuart News headquarters, and moved the remnants of its small Vero team into a second-floor office downtown. It had long since shifted its printing presses to St. Lucie. Summers, who bought the paper’s 50,000-square-foot building in November for $1.4 million, said his tenant prospects have been a diverse bunch, including a tennis academy, a medical clinic, retail stores, a Florida restaurant chain, and a furniture/cabinet distributor. The developer has even considered creating enclosed parking in the interior of the concrete block structure, providing easy access to restaurants and stores occupying surrounding parts of the building, and looked at using a 6,200-square-foot section with a 32-foot-tall ceiling as an event center for weddings and dancing. READ FULL STORY


Would private janitors endanger school children?
week of July 28, 2016

Two school board candidates have expressed concerns over pupil safety as the school district considers firing union janitors and bringing in an outside cleaning contractor, which would reduce the district’s ability to vet workers who are in daily contact with children. Dr. William Fritz, assistant superintendent in charge of human resources, said in a presentation to the school board that privatizing bus drivers and janitorial services were good prospects for saving money as the district struggles with its finances. Fritz has since rejected privatizing bus drivers, without explanation, leaving only janitorial services on the table. If privatization goes through, it would eliminate about 85 in-house positions. The Communications Workers of America union, which represents custodians, has been put on notice about the possible change, Fritz told the board, with the understanding the district would be “willing to work with them.” Fritz elaborated in a recent email, "The district is not seeking hour or wage concessions from the custodians. We are concerned about the cleanliness of some of our schools and we are working collaboratively with union leadership and the custodians to improve overall performance. READ FULL STORY


County offices to get replacement for leaking roof
week of July 21, 2016

After conducting county business for nine years with buckets on the floors to catch drips, the County Administration complex will finally be getting a new roof. In an emergency addition to the July 12 Commission agenda, County Attorney Dylan Reingold announced Indian River County will receive $1.2 million in a mediation settlement, the successful resolution of an almost 9-year effort to recover damages from faulty roofs on Administration Buildings A and B at the county government center. The leaks were discovered as soon as employees moved into the palatial $54-million complex in August 2007, and the county never signed off on or accepted the work. General Contractor Turner Construction Company tried repeatedly to repair the leaking roofs but was not successful. In October 2011, the County hired A/R/C, an architectural firm specializing in roof issues, to inspect and assess the problem. The company concluded the only remedy was a new roof, and county staff concurred. In November 2011, the county filed suit to recover its losses. READ FULL STORY


Beachland report card: Lower scores, fewer students
week of July 21, 2016

The student population and key test scores have declined at Beachland Elementary, the island’s only public school, at the same time as the percentage of students from low income families has increased. The statistics seem to be related, according to parents whose children attend the school. “Beachland was overlooked by the district for years,” says Tiffany Justice, a candidate for school board who has three children at the school. “Parents got frustrated with the system.” A parent who wishes to remain anonymous said many “very-involved parents” took their children out of Beachland and enrolled them in North County Charter School, “where they feel welcomed.” Buildings at Beachland, the oldest dating to 1957, fell into disrepair in recent years and had problems with leaks, mold and rats, according to parent complaints. The school district has now undertaken an $8 million renovation and rebuilding project at the school, but the action may be too little too late, at least for some students and parents. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Island Realty broker to Premier
week of July 21, 2016

A few days after the sale of Orchid Island Realty closed on July 1, the company’s longtime broker, Bob Niederpruem, moved his license to Premier Estate Properties, where he plans to continue selling homes in the north island club community while also expanding his business into other parts of Vero’s dynamic real estate market. “We are very excited to have Bob join us,” said Premier Broker-Associate Cindy O’Dare. “Every office in town wanted him and we feel very lucky he chose us.” “It was a hard decision,” says Niederpruem. “There are a lot of great real estate companies here, but in the end I felt like a small boutique firm focused on the luxury market would be the best fit for me. “That million and above [home category] is the target audience I am going after; it is a perfect fit for Orchid Island where I will still concentrate my efforts. Premier has an excellent marketing program, with their affiliations, that will be good for the folks up in Orchid.” READ FULL STORY


Hiking trail with great lagoon views to debut next year
week of July 21, 2016

Island residents soon will have access to a new 2-mile hiking trail with spectacular views of the Indian River Lagoon and access to kayaking and wildlife. The Oyster Bar Marsh Trail, on the river a mile south of the Moorings, will circle a 155-acre peninsula that contains a unique salt marsh and critical wildlife habitat, says David Heuberger, director of land protection at the Indian River Land Trust. The project, which will be designed this year and built next year, is a joint venture between the Land Trust and the county. “There will be a trail head on A1A with an informational kiosk and parking for approximately 15 cars,” says Heuberger. “Further along the trail, there will be boardwalks along edge of water and into the central wetlands, so you can see the wildlife that utilizes that habitat.” A little further along will be “a pavilion, essentially a covered observation deck. What is special about this is the open water views. Visitors will be able to look west and southwest across lagoon at five miles of undeveloped shoreline that has already been protected by the county and the Land Trust. READ FULL STORY


Vero council increases taxes and boosts utility transfers
week of July 21, 2016

Rather than make tough decisions about priorities, the Vero Beach City Council has decided to balance its budget through a 10 percent increase in the tax rate, while also voting to boost the cash it pilfers from electric, water and sewer customers by $200,000 more than initially budgeted. Savings expected from the shuttering of Big Blue and trimming the utility staff by 13 people reduced the electric fund budget in the coming year by $5.1 million. This lower budget figure would have reduced the amount of money transferred from the utility to the city’s general fund, but the council during Friday’s budget talks voted instead to “stabilize” the transfer amount at $5.4 million. While the rake off is down from a high of $5.6 million back in the days when Vero’s rates were 58 percent higher than Florida Power & Light, the city’s electric rates are still more than 30 percent higher than FPL rates and Vero is still heavily dependent on utility subsidies paid by non-city residents. READ FULL STORY


Vero seaplane company sponsors free ‘Beachside Ride’ jitney
week of July 21, 2016

Have you seen the new "Beachside Ride" jitney cruising along the Central Beach business district, carrying passengers to and from local hotels, restaurants and shops? The owners hope so. They're using the free shuttle – a sharp-looking, red-and-black, six-passenger vehicle best described as a golf cart on steroids – to promote their start-up business: Treasure Coast Seaplanes. Treasure Coast Seaplanes, which offers seaplane tours and advanced sea-plane flight training, began operations Monday. The company is awaiting Federal Aviation Administration certification to begin charter air service to the Florida Keys, Bahamas and eventually Cuba. In the meantime, the company's owners – licensed pilots and flight instructors Michael Hoover and his wife, Sheena, actually met while teaching at Flight Safety in Vero Beach and have a combined 30-plus years of flying experience – are hoping shuttle riders will become seaplane passengers. "Our basic route is along Ocean Drive, where we can help alleviate the parking shortage and make getting to the bars and restaurants more convenient, but we'll go from the Village Beach Market to South Beach and west to the Riverside Park area," Hoover said. READ FULL STORY


Pristine beaches bringing surge in summer visitors
week of July 14, 2016

Hotels and restaurants on our barrier island report seeing an increase in business in recent days as the algae disaster to the south diverts tourists to Vero Beach, where the ocean and lagoon are unaffected by the Lake Okeechobee pollution that is plaguing Stuart. A day after Independence Day, the Caribbean Court Boutique Hotel used Facebook and three exclamation points to tell the world: “Our Beaches are Open!!!” With the toxic blue-green algae in Martin County’s waterways making national TV news, Vero Beach hotels such as Caribbean Court and South Beach Place wanted to spread the word that the smelly, guacamole-thick sludge has not affected Indian River County’s waterways and that they are open for business. Edyta Zachariasz, Caribbean Court front office manager, said tourists who don’t know how far the algae slime in Stuart and the St. Lucie River is from Vero Beach were calling her hotel to get the lowdown on whether the bloom was contaminating waterways in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Vero realty team is now 6th in Florida, 79th in the nation
week of July 14, 2016

The exceptional nature of the island’s real estate market was illustrated again last week when Real Trend’s much-anticipated list of America’s Best Real Estate Agents was published. It included more than a dozen Vero agents at Premier Estate Properties, Dale Sorensen Real Estate, Treasure Coast Sotheby’s, Coldwell Banker Ed Schlitt Realtor and other brokerages. Even more impressive, Premier’s Cindy O’Dare and Clark French made it onto Real Trend’s separate elite list of the 1,000 top agents and teams in the nation. Partners who joined Premier when it opened an office in Vero in 2008, French and O’Dare sold an astonishing $168.1 million in 2015, ranking 6th among all teams in Florida and 79th nationwide. They achieved the feat despite being in one of the smaller markets that appears on the Real Trends list, competing with agents in huge markets in Miami, New York and Los Angeles. There are 12,000 agents and teams on the America’s Best Real Estate Agents list. Real Trends President Steve Murray, whose company publishes the list, says the cutoff for inclusion is $20 million in verified sales or 50 transactions for a single agent and $30 million in sales or 70 transaction sides for a team. READ FULL STORY


Judge gives guidance to man suing Vero for Baker Act arrest
week of July 14, 2016

A federal judge has given former island resident Larry Wilke until Aug. 1 to re-file his complaint against the City of Vero Beach and a Tallahassee hospital for alleged civil rights violations relating to 2014 incidents when the 72-year-old retired civil engineer was hospitalized via Florida’s Baker Act. Meanwhile, Wilke’s son, Ryan Wilke, 42, a graduate of Vero Beach High School who works in a non-clinical psychology specialty area with Florida State University, has gone on record saying his father’s behavior in the run-up to his hospitalizations was strange for sure. United States Magistrate Judge Charles Stampelos recently issued a detailed five-page order giving Wilke, who filed the suit pro se or as his own legal counsel, detailed instructions on how to craft and file a new complaint that might survive a motion to dismiss. In addition to basic formatting issues, Wilke’s original document did not, Stampelos said, outline the factual basis for the 11 separate charges it alleges. Wilke must also clarify which charges he is lodging against Vero Beach police and which against the Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, its board of directors, parent company and its behavioral health center where Wilke says he was held for 27 days against his will. READ FULL STORY


School District not open to input on student code of conduct
week of July 14, 2016

The Indian River County School District administration, which has a habit of presenting faits accomplis to the School Board to be rubber-stamped, was at it again when a hearing was held, ostensibly for public input, on a revised student code of conduct. Jacqueline Warrior, NAACP education committee member, raised objections to the revised code, saying the definition of gang activity in the code was too loose. She noted that any principal or school resource officer has authority to label a student a gang member and put it in the school file, which could possibly become part of a juvenile’s justice record. Warrior said she recently participated in a hearing on a student expulsion where the principal assumed a black student intentionally was wearing gang colors, red and white. She later saw a group of white students near Vero Beach High School also wearing red and white, and said she learned those are the school colors. “The color of your skin determines what gang colors are,” she remarked. READ FULL STORY


Golf club-wielding attacker takes plea bargain
week of July 14, 2016

A golf club-wielding attacker who assaulted a former girlfriend and her date outside Maison Martinique in November 2012 will be sentenced in August. Danny R. Morgan, 64, had been charged with attempted first-degree murder for his vicious golf club attack on local Realtor Vicki Bristol and her date Randy Rudish. Rather than face that charge in court, he has now taken a plea deal from prosecutors, pleading guilty to two counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated assault. Before Morgan made the deal, he had entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, said Morgan’s lawyer, Andrew Metcalf. “I can’t comment on the chances of his success if the case went to trial, other than to say that the plea entered in this case was in Mr. Morgan’s best interests,” Metcalf said last week. Assistant State Attorney Michelle McCarter, who handled the case for the state, said if the sentences for the three counts run consecutively, Morgan could face as much as 35 years in prison. READ FULL STORY


Hit-and-run driver offered plea deal in Orchid man’s death
week of July 14, 2016

The case against the woman charged with killing Orchid Island winter resident Peter Meyer in a hit-and-run accident in Savannah, Ga., in January 2015 might not go to trial. The lead prosecutor said he has made a plea offer to Darcia Lavonde Hymon, who faces felony charges of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death. Under Georgia law, she could receive between three and 15 years in prison if convicted. "There's no agreement yet – we're still negotiating – but there's no hurry," Chatham County Assistant District Attorney Frank Pennington said. "We've got a couple of months to get something done." Hymon's next court date is Aug. 31, when Superior Court Judge Penny Freesemann is expected to set the case for trial if no plea deal is reached. Assistant Public Defender Robert Attridge, who is representing the 50-year-old Jacksonville woman, did not return several calls to his office. In an email sent last month to Orchid Island resident Pat Walsh, one of Meyer's former Merrill Lynch colleagues and closest friends, the victim's daughter expressed relief that a plea deal was in the works. READ FULL STORY


Quail Valley Club’s Royal Palm Pointe hotel and restaurant nearing completion
week of July 14, 2016

The new Quail Valley restaurant and hotel property on Royal Palm Pointe is rapidly nearing completion, and General Manager Kevin Given said it will open, pretty much on schedule, in August. He said it will be “a very soft opening.” The imposing private dining and lodging venue is the club’s third facility in Vero Beach. Club owner Steve Mulvey and his partner Given opened a dramatic links-style golf club northwest of town in 2001, followed by a riverfront campus that debuted on the barrier island in 2003 offering a marina, tennis, swimming pool, fitness center, spa, restaurants and overnight accommodations. The new facility on the former site of the Lobster Shanty restaurant will include a small three-story hotel with 11 suites for the use of the club’s 935 members, their guests and families; a striking octagonal restaurant that will have 7,000 square feet of air-conditioned space with another 3,000 square feet of covered veranda for outdoor dining; and a parking facility for 60 cars. READ FULL STORY


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