Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Conch Cottage Snapshot

Whitewashed bricks, old Florida shutters and a modern tin roof.

A classic look on First Street, caught in passing.

Gentrification Please!

Gentrification is the process of moving the affordability goalposts out of reach of ordinary people, and I think the process is gaining speed in Key West. Lately I've got the feeling that the Key West is being hammered on all sides by various plans to "upgrade" the city. Even the approaches to Key West aren't immune. I wrote earlier about the plans for 43 new homes on land in front of Key Haven. A half mile further east, closer to Mile Marker Six we have plans for luxury homes on an empty, kidney shaped peninsula (upgraded to an island by the developers!) that sticks out north of the highway.
I think it would make a fabulous retreat for someone with twenty plus million to spare to build themselves a homestead on the four acres surrounded by water with only one paved roadway in. But greed dictates maximum build out at all costs...
Moving closer in we came to the entrance to Key West which is pretty much a row of blighted chain hotels and plastic ticky tacky boxes lining North Roosevelt Boulevard. It's not much of a welcome mat to the fabulous Southernmost City. Even ignoring the fact that the Boulevard is under construction, it looks pretty unappealing.
There have been plans in the works to change this,
...into something that looks more like this:
...but the dismal economy put on hold the Spottswood plans for a massive hotel and convention center curling around the corner of North Roosevelt. They own the whole string of hotels and the idea was to combine them into a center that would look good and offer the convenience of a Key West experience with none of the real world hassles. Our state representative raised a few eyebrows when he announced he was shilling for the gambling industry which is trying to nuzzle into the state, much to the aggravation of the Seminole tribes which currently enjoy a monopoly. State Representative Ron Sanders is being term limited out of office this election so I suppose he needs a new gig, but still, gambling..?
Further into town plans are afoot to build a hotel complex on open land that used to be a trailer park, it was affordable winter housing almost on the Key West waterfront, across from Schooner Wharf Bar.
A group of ad hoc local developers bought the land and tried to build homes on it. That got felled by the economy and after Cortex went bust the land lay fallow. Now Pritam Singh, he of Truman Annex fame, has decided to build a hotel on the land. A group of neighbors has filed suit to try to stop it, but I wonder how they will manage. (More on that next Monday).  They got Cortex on the ropes long enough to drive them bust but Singh is a wiley developer, he has to be in a town where everyone has an opinion and most of them are negative. The owners of Schooner Wharf had an opinion piece in last Sunday's Citizen complaining that they aren't being given credit for sharing their portion of the waterfront with the city, and aren't given credit for helping revive Key West Bight when it needed help. Schooner Wharf is a tourist attraction that bills itself as the last piece of old Key West, whatever that is, grunge is part of it I think.
But they do have fun, the tourists at Schooner Wharf, and let's face it, if the bar hadn't been there I wonder how well the city would have drawn people in to the rest of the waterfront. In fact Key West Bight is now coming in for scrutiny from the city with plans to clean up, dare I say gentrify the docks.
The Bight Board (there is such an entity!) is talking of cleaning things up by limiting advertising and the like. The night is city property but it is freewheeling to some extent and it does ooze tourist appeal with the funky boats, tours and salty characters.
I can't say I'm a great fan of the Half Shell Raw bar, but it is a definite destination bar, just as it is.
And it too exhibits it's share of funk. I mean, look at this old bicycle rack, this is pure Key West where a bicycle is basic transportation not an expensive lifestyle statement:
People who came to Key West thirty years ago, and are still alive, bitch all the time about how Key West has changed over the years and I suppose they are right. Gentrification is after all a perception. What seems gentrified to a commercial fisherman is a place made pretty when viewed by a millionaire's arm ornament from the deck of a very expensive floating palace. However the pace and ferocity of change is quite startling when you take into account how much stuff is being planned or built and with so little public input or approval.
Take Truman Waterfront. Plans for a retirement home on six of 34 acres deeded to the city by the retreating Navy have sort of been swept away. A sleek upscale Spottswood marina has been proposed to much condemnation but is still the leading candidate to replace the open space on the waterfront. The best part is the developers want the city to foot the bill for construction then pay the developers to manage the city property once completed. As though the city's port authority couldn't do that job. They got rid of the World War Two Mohawk cutter which was getting in the way but the Ingham soldiers on as the sole remaining floating museum.
Even these grandiose developments aren't enough for the developers in Key West who apparently want to make changes offshore as well. The Conch Republic under siege?
Or being improved?