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Diesel power plant, long vacant, soon may be up for sale

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of June 13, 2013)

The old diesel power plant, renovated at considerable taxpayer as well as private expense amid visions of retail shops and restaurants but which has sat vacant now for years never producing a dime in rent, may soon be put up for public sale.

Vero Beach city officials and the project’s developer, a group led by builder David Croom, could be poised to work out their differences.  They agreed at a meeting late last week to split the cost of having the property appraised, and then to negotiate an end to the Croom group’s 45-year lease freeing the city to put the 87-year-old building up for sale.

Earlier this year, Vero Beach 32963 reported the Croom group had not paid tens of thousands of dollars in rent owed to the city as part of the deal it signed to develop the property and sublease it to other tenants.  The Croom group now owes the city $66,000.

City Council members subsequently twice asked Croom to attend a City Council meeting to discuss the property. Twice Croom failed to appear.

In late May, the last time Croom did not appear to meet with council, officials talked about the property and directed City Manager Jim O’Connor to resolve the matter: Get Croom to pay up, regain control of the property or get it back onto city tax rolls.

Croom's silence ended recently in the form of a letter from his wife – who is an attorney – saying her husband takes great exception to the comments made at the meeting. Although somewhat reserved, council members discussed the overdue rent, and noted the city can take the property back because Croom has not lived up to his end of the lease.

“It has been frustrating to obtain resolution on the matters, based on the turnover of many different city representatives since 2001, including both paid staff and city council,” wrote Janet Carney Croom.

“I can only assume that the new city council and the new city manager and the new city attorney had not been provided relevant material when making factually and legally incorrect public statements at the May 21, 2013 city council meeting.”

The Crooms contend that his group, the B&B Redevelopment Team, isn’t the party that failed to live up to the conditions of the lease to repair the building and eventually start paying rent.

Croom contends the city hasn’t taken necessary steps to address environmental concerns.

O’Connor disagrees, telling Vero Beach 32963 the city spent several hundred thousand dollars cleaning up the land after the plant was decommissioned.

What’s still left, said O’Connor, is cleaning up any environmental problems that may be found if the lone remaining generator still in the building is removed from the property.  That massive piece of machinery was intentionally left inside the building in the event prospective tenants wanted to keep it as a showpiece of Vero’s early industrial history.

Should someone decide to have it removed or just moved outside, said O’Connor, the city has every intention of living up to its end of the bargain and having the soil tested and remediated if necessary.

The Crooms met with O’Connor and City Attorney Wayne Coment late last week to talk about the property. While they still came to no agreement on the back rent Croom owes, it appears they are willing to work out a deal.

“It would have been really nice if he would write us a check for $66,000, but according to his attorney’s response, I’m not sure that is going to happen right now,” O’Connor said.

Does Croom want to purchase the building and property outright?

“Don’t know,” said O’Connor.

If it isn’t sold to Croom outright, O’Connor said the city will put the building up for sale to the general public.

“I think this is good,” O’Connor said. “We have to have a starting point.”

The starting point of the current entanglement began in 2001 when the idea to develop the landmark building first surfaced. Four years later, another lease was signed and the idea was that after a grace period of a few years, the Croom group would pay the city a rate that escalated over time. 

Croom contends that he has spent more than $1 million on the property already, moving outbuildings, replacing windows and renovating some of the brick work. Inside the old plant, there is still no floor and no plumbing.

The 45-year lease Croom’s development group signed currently sets rent at $19,677 a year.

Sources say interest is expressed regularly in the downtown property, but no new deal has been signed.