During the past several months locals and visitors have been watching as city and state government and private companies have undertaken several large construction projects that will substantially change the way Key West looks for decades to come. Today's blog is intended as a brief comment on those projects.
I first blogged about the North Roosevelt Boulevard renewal project around Christmas in 2012 when the State of Florida Highway Department began the planned two year project to widen the road, replace existing seawall, replace and widen the sidewalk, replace huge sewer lines, create new catch basins for storm runoff waters, replace street lights and signals, and add a couple of miles of beautiful towering palms to add new welcome locals and visitors to the Olde Island. The entry way on the water side of Roosevelt Boulevard is nearly complete and it is much prettier than before.
After the first phase of the project between White Street to Eisenhower Drive was completed, the Highway Department made Roosevelt a one way street from the beginning at Cow Key Channel Bridge to Eisenhower. Outgoing traffic was routed eastward on Flagler Avenue which is a mix of residential and commercial. Businesses on Roosevelt felt the pain of lower usage and residents and businesses on Flagler had to cope with noise and congestion 24-7. The Highway Department eventually caved in to public pressure and allowed two way traffic on Roosevelt.
|Holiday Inn Beachside 1959|
|Former Holiday Inn photographed Sept 2013|
|Former Holiday Inn as photographed May 2014|
|The first new hotel you see upon crossing over Cow Key Channel Bridge|
|School mascot being removed in anticipation of construction|
|School cafeteria in foreground|
|No more cafeteria|
Locals and returning visitors will recognize the 1950s era building at the corner of Simonton and Angela Streets as being the former Key West city hall, police station, and fire house. That building is going to be razed. It will be replaced by a new fire station. The police department relocated to North Roosevelt Boulevard a few years ago.
|This part of demolition occurred in 2011|
|Aerial view of the Army Barracks and parade grounds circa 1920|
|Peary Court circa 1980 after military housing was removed|
|Peary Court 2014 center of new controversy over how this parcel of ground will be used|
According to an article in Key West The Newspaper "For years, the large piece of undeveloped Navy property at White Street and Palm Avenue was used as a park by Key Westers. So when the Navy announced that the property, known as Peary Court, was to be developed for military housing, many locals protested. They argued that the Navy really didn’t need any more housing in Key West and, in fact, was in the process of reducing its presence in here. But it was a hard argument to win. The Navy owned the property and that was that. And construction began in 1993. But former City Commissioner Harry Powell apparently felt stronger about the issue than other protesters. On January 13, 1994, Powell showed up at the construction site and barricaded himself inside of a construction trailer with explosives strapped around his chest. He said he would give himself up if he received assurances that the decision to develop Peary Court would be reviewed by top brass in Washington. Finally, after an all-day standoff, somebody promised Harry that the already-underway development would be reviewed. He was arrested, tried and spent nearly a year in prison."
When I first visited Key West in 1984 the Key West Bight did not look like what it looks like today. Old docks and fishing boats populated the area. Turtle Kraals and the Half Shell Raw Bar were in place, but they didn't look then as nice as they look today. The old Jabour Trailer Court was located steps away on Elizabeth Street between Caroline Street and the water's edge. The boat docks were replaced by expensive boat slips. A new board walk was added. The old Bight became the Historic Seaport and a tourist destination. As more and more tourists invaded the area, the character of the seaport changed. The trailer court became a very valuable piece of property for future development. More than a decade ago the Watermark Condominium project was announced as the replacement for the trailer court. A group of locals started raising a ruckus over the proposed project and caused the developer and the city to run arond in circles for several years trying to placate the noisy neighbors. Then the recession occurred and the project hit the skids. The property was foreclosed. Local developer Pritam Singh and partners acquired the property and are now in the process of constructing a new 96 room hotel on the site.
The newly improved North Roosevelt Boulevard, the new hotel collection at gateway to Key West, the new 96 room hotel at the Historic Seaport, the new Old Town fire station, and the new city hall will forever change the way visitors and locals see and use the projects that are at least momentarily disrupting our lives. I am sure that everybody involved is trying their best to make Key West a better place. I know the board members on the Historic Architectural Review Commission and the Planning Board have the best interests of Key West in mind when they review pending projects. My fear is that their zeal for correctness will turn our imperfect little town into a caricature of a Disney town.
Many of the photos used herein were borrowed from the Florida Keys Libraries online photo album.