Monday, October 29, 2012

The Railway Condos And Noblesse Oblige

To look at them these condos look pretty much standard mass produced housing for the masses.

They are actually the product of Historic Tours of America's housing for workers worries. It's been clear to Ed Swift principal (or "principle" if you read their grammatically wobbly website) of Workforce Housing along with his two sidekicks that to get people to work in Key West they will need housing (not pay apparently) that meets their needs. So various corporate-socialistic worker housing complexes have started appearing, and very nice they are too. Meridien West on Stock Island is a massive, well thought out example supposedly to be joined by Meridien East at some future date.

"Affordable" in Key West is a bizarre concept whe you consider an affordable home would be priced between $175,000 (very low) to a quarter million dollars for a two bedroom free standing rabbit hutch in a complex somewhere. Move Up North and that sort of money will get you a nice home in a nice neighborhood unless you're in the Hamptons or Mill Valley.

These condos are nicely located close to down town attractions and they are well landscaped. I like them a lot, and I have two friends who rent here and they tell me they are very happy in their unit.

It isn't pure altruism that got these condos built because they are an affordable "offset" for the massively expensive Steam Plant condos across the landscaping. The thing about Ed Swift and he has tons of detractors as all succesfull people do, is that he has an interest in the history of his home town and to some extent the future of his town. Te other it developers, the Spottswoods do not exhibit any interest in either. The obligations of nobility stop with Ed Swift unfortunately.

The steam plant was the power generating station for the city that shut down a few decades ago and sat silent and useless on this spot until Swift and his "principles" decided to have a go at making luxury condos with private garages and private elevators, roof top swimming pools and expensive views. All for three point two mill. Except the crash of 2008 intervened. These are now bargain priced for those workers with more than average capital to throw into their housing. These aren't apartments, they are "residences."

Aside from bragging rights and snob value on the scale of value for money I think the Railway condos are a great deal to rent or buy, though I have no idea if any of these units are available. You might have to make do with one of the millionaire "residences" across the way.

There is parking for two cars plus scooters under each apartment. There is landscaping and even though the views aren't the greatest, unless you like the back of the Keys Energy offices, this complex would constitute decent housing in Key West, or anywhere in the country in my opinion. They call them Railway because the terminus for Flagler's East Coast Extension Railroad was in the neighborhood and Ed Swift remembers Key West history when he builds.

I see Key West sliding inevitably into a gentrified future where true eccentrics and marginal people are long gone, most have left already leaving the willfully eccentric poseurs to fly the Conch Republic flag a little while longer. There will always be a need for servants and workers of course and as in any gated community we get a laissez passer to live and work on millionaire row. This future isn't here yet but the building blocks are in place anytime the leaders of this community choose to enact it. As far as I can tell all that's stopping them is the inability to let go of the old paradigm of quick cheap tourist cash, in exchange for a long dry spell as they build the new Monte Carlo of North America.

Workforce housing will always be an issue on this small speck of dirt far out into the ocean and whether the town will struggle on with it's current apparently successful formula of cheap tourism en masse versus that different vision that remains tantalizing but out of reach which consists of fewer people with more money and less, a lot less prurient appeal. Either way I have no preference. To me these are the good old days, a few artists hanging on, a few eccentrics left over, a few bums for gross local color and a few people like me on the sidelines, unwilling to seek oblivion through public intoxication yet glad to live in a town where name brands and status symbols matter less and the ability to buck trends and think for oneself still has its place, albeit in an ever diminishing circle. The big issues I'll leave to the Conchs and the monied developer types who will do what they will and ask no one permission before they do. The "obligation of nobility" for them will still be limited to making sure there will be workers around to keep the wheels of the tropical paradise turning smoothly. So far, so good.