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New purchase bid, new lawsuit for old diesel power plant

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of November 7, 2013)

A Coral Springs couple relocating to Vero has offered $595,000 cash for the red-brick diesel power plant in the Vero’s old downtown, hoping to turn it into a boutique liquor distillery and ultimately have it house retail stores, an upscale restaurant and bar. 

But their proposal to breathe life into the historic property, never occupied even after costly renovation and cleanup, seems likely to be tied up in new litigation between the city and the original developer.

On Nov. 1, beachside attorney Janet Carney Croom, the wife of luxury custom homebuilder and developer David Croom, one of the principals of B-B Redevelopment Team LLC, filed suit on behalf of B-B Redevelopment against the City of Vero Beach for breach of contract, fraud and misrepresentation

On Tuesday morning during a 27-minute City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll asked City Manager Jim O’Connor to update the council on the status of the old diesel power plant property.

The original deal between the city and B-B Redevelopment, entered into more than a decade ago, saw both parties spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on environmental cleanup and renovation.  Rent was then to start at $19,677 a year when the building was ready for occupancy.

But B-B Redevelopment never found a tenant, and no rent ever was paid.  As of this summer, the city claimed Croom and his business partner, Phil Barth of Barth Construction, were $66,000 in arrears on the rent.

O’Connor, in briefing the Council on the new purchase offer as well as the suit filed by B-B Redevelopment, said Vero would “probably have to file a countersuit as they were delinquent (on the rent).”

But the more encouraging news, according to public records, is that O’Connor has been working with Guy and Lisa D’Amico of Coral Springs for about a month, answering questions about the property, which is the city’s oldest municipal building.

“They are interested in the size of the building and they are interested in the location,” O’Connor said, adding that development of the arts district around 14th Avenue was one of the factors that prompted the couple to inquire about the property.

The D’Amicos, who bought an ocean-to-river lot in Ambersand Beach a year ago, said they plan to build a home here and look forward to moving in with their young son.

“Once we are settled, it is our intention to plant permanent roots within the Vero Beach community and start a new business,” Guy D’Amico wrote to O’Connor. “We (are) extremely excited and hopeful of the possibility to start that new venture within the walls and grounds of that Old Diesel Power Plant Building.”

The letter goes on to say that the D’Amicos envision developing the property in two phases – the first being a private-label, boutique liquor distillery, and the second being commercial retail stores and an upscale restaurant and bar.

“To further our intent and interest in the subject property, we hereby submit a formal cash purchase offer to the City of Vero Beach in the amount of $595,000,” the Oct. 25 letter states.

The offer would be contingent upon the required surveys, zoning approvals and the execution of a formal purchase and sale agreement, which D’Amico stated he would submit within three days of acceptance of the offer.

“We look forward to the possibility of breathing new life into the currently empty brick shell building, while not only creating local jobs, and growing the local economy, but further creating a ‘destination point’ for visitors and tourists near and far,” D’Amico’s letter concludes.