Nonprofit ORCA buys $865,000 Vero Beach building after CIHR eviction
The Ocean Research & Conservation Association has a new permanent home, a year after Indian River State College abruptly evicted the nonprofit from the building it had rented for 16 years.
ORCA purchased the 6,500 square foot building, a former radio station at 1235 16th St. in Vero Beach, and expects to be fully moved in by the end of the year, said Edie Widder, co- founder and principal scientist of the association. .
The building will be named the DJ Rainone Research and Science Building, after a Vero Beach resident who “had an incredible love for the ocean and whose estate initiated the fundraising campaign that made the purchase of the building,” according to an Aug. 22 announcement from the nonprofit.
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Indian River Lagoon Research
Rainone’s estate donated $500,000 toward the $865,000 purchase price, Widder said. ORCA raised $921,000 of its fundraising goal of $1.2 million during a campaign launched in April, Widder said.
The city helped with renovations and in 2019 donated a former water quality testing lab near the airport that became ORCA’s new citizen science center, Widder said. The Vero Beach Art Club also helped by painting murals in the space.
“The City of Vero Beach has been so supportive of our efforts on behalf of the lagoon, we feel really good about this move,” Widder said. “Community support has been phenomenal and this is an ideal location for ORCA, midway between the extremes of the 156-mile long Indian River Lagoon.”
The lagoon crosses five coastal counties, including Martin, St. Lucia, Indian River, Brevard, and Volusia.
Why did the IRSC expel ORCA?
ORCA had been based in the historic Coast Guard building on Seaway Drive in Fort Pierce since 2005, until the CIHR issued a 60-day departure notice in May 2021.
CIHR’s Board of Trustees in April 2021 “deemed that the facility was not maintained to CIHR standards and was unfit for continued occupancy,” the spokeswoman said at the time. Suzanne Seldes at TCPalm.
The 1936 building was deteriorating, CIHR officials told ORCA. This baffled the ORCA staff. General Manager Warren Falls, who is a licensed contractor, said the structure was “sound” and “sound” and had passed all of its fire inspections. The interior and mainly the exterior had been renovated in 2018 to repair the damage caused by the hurricane.
CIHR has repeatedly refused TCPalm’s request for inspection reports detailing issues with the building.
The CIHR also denied ORCA’s request for more time to find its next headquarters.
“The urgency with which they seemed to need to get us out of there was quite mystifying,” Widder told TCPalm on Thursday. “At the time, I begged them to let us stay a bit longer.”
CIHR Visitor Center
Once ORCA was released, a new name appeared on the sign: “Hospitality Center”.
The use of the building remains unclear. It’s too early to tell, as there is “a lot to do to make the building fit for occupancy,” Seldes told TCPalm on Thursday.
The building will remain unoccupied until an assessment, review and renovation is complete, Seldes said. She could not provide a timeline.
The building is reserved for the college’s hospitality program, which focuses on the tourism industry, Seldes told TCPalm last year.
The building features Dade County pine, New England-style arches with concealed windows, long kitchen cabinets designed for the naval military officers who lived there during World War II. A ladder on the third floor accesses a panoramic view of the ocean, cove and lagoon.
Although it did not have a headquarters last year, ORCA has expanded its citizen science program and continued research in the Indian River lagoon, Widder said.
“I look forward to even more progress in the years to come when we have this new space to depend on,” she said.
ORCA is still accepting donations on teamorca.org.
Max Chesnes is an environmental reporter for TCPalm who focuses on issues facing the Indian River Lagoon, St. Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. You can follow Max on Twitter @MaxChesnesemail him at [email protected] and call him at 772-978-2224.