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Realtors steer bid to beautify Ocean Drive

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS (Week of March 14, 2024)

Top island real estate professionals have banded together with shop owners and others to spruce up a six-block stretch of Ocean Drive, from Acacia Lane to Flamevine.

Cindy O’Dare, Matilde and Elizabeth Sorensen, Cathy Curley and Christine Barry are among those supporting the grassroots initiative to install flowerbeds and solar-powered lamp posts with hanging baskets of flowers along the island’s most prominent street to make Central Beach more garden-like and picturesque.

O’Dare, a co-founder of the nonprofit behind the effort, said the group was inspired by similar civic beautification committees in Winter Park, Florida, and Telluride, Colorado, where abundant flowers have made downtown areas more pleasant for residents and more appealing to visitors.

“People think the city should do this work, but they don’t have the money,” O’Dare said. “When you see hanging baskets of flowers in a pretty town or park somewhere, it usually is the work of a volunteer group like ours.”

“Things got started when [business owners] Jordan Wakeland and Deana Marchant were talking about the beautiful flowers in New York’s Central Park and along Park Avenue,” O’Dare continued.

Turns out much of Central Park’s floral display is designed, funded and managed, not by the city, but by the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy, which last spring “raised more than $4.3 million for beautification during the sold-out 41st annual Frederick Law Olmsted Awards ‘hat luncheon,’” according to Women’s Wear Daily.

Wakeland and Marchant shared their thoughts with O’Dare, a broker associate at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, Stephanie MacWilliam, wife of AMAC Alex MacWilliam broker Buzz MacWilliam, and Margaret Anne Evans.

The five women formed a nonprofit and have raised about $25,000 so far, most of it at a cocktail party last week inspired by the Manhattan event where some 100 women showed up in colorful spring dresses and fanciful hats, paying $125 to attend and buying raffle tickets.

MacWilliams called the turnout at the party, which was held at O’Dare’s home, “fantastic” and Matilde Sorensen hailed those involved as “a group of dynamic women with a needed vision for Vero.”

“Many women called after the party and asked to be invited next year,” O’Dare said. “All of us share a love of beautiful flowers and the idea of beautification in our charming town.”

“It is a great public private partnership,” said City Manager Monte Falls, who has lent his support to the effort. “The group already did a project at Sexton Plaza, where they paid for new plants and palm trees and the city provided the labor.”

The city’s grounds maintenance manager, Nanette Haynes, who was at the ‘hat party,’ is another supporter, along with Vero Beach City Councilmember Tracy Zudans, according to O’Dare.

Haynes meets with the group regularly to help develop beautification plans.

O’Dare said each solar-powered lamp post with flower baskets will cost about $2,000 installed, so more money is needed to line the six-block stretch of Ocean Drive and install strategic flower beds.

As of Monday, the group was still interviewing contractors to change the flowers out four times a year and maintain them weekly.

“It is a big job, and we need lots of help!” said O’Dare.

“We will just kind of grow with the project,” Falls said of the city’s participation. “As they propose projects, we will look and see how we can help.”

“I am involved because I am happy and proud to live in Vero Beach where my husband’s family has such deep roots,” MacWilliam said. “We want to make Vero even more beautiful for the residents and all the people who visit here.”

“To me it is about good citizenship,” said O’Dare. “We care about our town and take great pride in it and want to benefit the community.”

“Any time you improve an area with flowers and lighting, it makes everyone happy,” said Sorensen.