The school district is doing what former councilman Joe Graves said was impossible – creating the public-private partnership needed to build a community sports and recreation complex on the 11.6-acre parcel across 16th Street from the Beach High School.
And yes, he is surprised.
But he’s also thrilled, knowing that his vision for the property he gave to the school district could come true.
“What the school district has come up with is amazing,” Graves said earlier this month, after the plan was released. “I couldn’t be happier. It is an answered prayer.
Graves, a local attorney, purchased the property from the county in 2017, hoping to build a youth sports complex in memory of his 15-year-old son, Jimmy, who died in a boating accident in 2016.
However, Graves was unable to attract enough public or private support to fund his efforts and attempted to sell the property to a developer who wanted to build housing there.
Amid threats of legal action by the county, which said the land was to be used for recreational purposes, Graves decided to donate the plot to the school district last year — with a stipulation.
He insisted that the sports facility built on the property would be named after his son.
As such, the school district’s $7 million project will include a $3.8 million Jimmy Graves Sports Stadium, which will be built in the heart of the Vero Beach community complex and will include a regulation-sized running track and a field of lacrosse/soccer.
The school district wants to start construction later this year, and has already been promised half of the $4 million it hopes to raise by October.
The city council gave its blessing to the $7 million project – which will include a community park, sports field, playground, amphitheater and business center – voting unanimously to contribute $1 million of dollars.
The Indian River County Education Foundation has also committed $1 million to the cause and plans to raise more money by selling sponsorships for various parts of the facility.
Once the complex is built, Superintendent of Schools David Moore said, the district would maintain the property and cover the costs of maintaining the facilities.
“A school system will never be stronger than the community in which it sits,” Moore told City Council after Cindy Emerson, the district’s director of instructional innovation, presented the plan.
“This is an opportunity to really provide a space that we are fully committed to keeping open from sunrise to sunset in service to the community – a space where families can gather, parents can meet teachers and parents can socialize with other members of the community,” he added. “It really is the heart of the community.”
City council members enthusiastically welcomed the plan, which Mayor Robbie Brackett called “a very important project”, adding: “It’s a chance to do what the public wants us to do, which is say create parks and green spaces”.
Councilman John Cotugno went further, saying the project “hits all the bases” and seeing it completed would be the “highlight” of his tenure.
“This,” added Councilwoman Honey Minuse, “is just huge for our future generations.”
In addition to the sports stadium, where the regulation-sized eight-lane track would allow Vero Beach High School to host Florida High School Athletic Association-sanctioned meets for the first time, the plan includes:
- A 5,000 square foot “all-inclusive” play area accessible to children with disabilities, including those in wheelchairs, and with a shock-absorbing surface. The $280,000 installation would include six different swings, a merry-go-round, sun shades and music.
- A $2 million student entrepreneurship center that provides space for student entrepreneurs to market merchandise and sell products, and includes an alternate location for a student-run cafe. The facility would also include 3,000 square feet of open meeting space, an outdoor market, a student art gallery, and offices for community partnerships and the innovation lab.
- A 100,000 square foot amphitheater for concerts and other events. The $90,000 facility would offer state-of-the-art portable sound capabilities and a portable projection screen with high-output video projector, and it could be rented out for community and non-profit events.
The complex would also include a $200,000 half-mile community boardwalk equipped with overhead lighting and lined with displays recalling historic events that helped shape Vero Beach.
“We really see this property as a unifier in our community,” Emerson said, “bringing people together and focusing on the values that we believe so strongly in the district.”
His vision for the property was not as elaborate or expansive, but he believed Vero Beach needed a youth sports and recreation complex that was open to the community and able to bring people together.
“I hit my head against the wall, but nobody wanted anything to do with the pitch and I couldn’t get any traction,” Graves said. “The support of the school district really made a difference.
“People see there’s a need for something like this here, and it’s a very giving community, so I’m excited about that,” he added. “It’s going to happen, and now I’m just trying to be a cheerleader.”