The road from Eaton Street to Fort Zachary State Park is not a long, nor treacherous route — but the process of connecting the two points has taken city officials, the U.S. Navy and advisory boards nearly 14 years of negotiations, design charettes and approvals from as far away as Washington, D.C. to get this close to breaking ground on the Truman Waterfront Park.
Key West Mayor Craig Cates believes shovels will be in the ground by July when Phase I commences with the installation of infrastructure, an 8-foot wide bike path, and a road with a turnaround near Fort Zachary State Park.
“This plan has been vetted by the community for years,” said Cates. “It’s a little bit of what everybody wants.”
Originally conceived as a world-class marina with shopping and entertainment facilities, the purpose of the property has evolved over the years along with the cultural and economic climate.
The Navy sold the property at a “100 percent discount,” (with a $10 processing fee), to the city of Key West in December 2002, said Naval Air Station Executive Director Ron Demes — but the sale included several deed restrictions to protect the Navy’s operational and national security interests.
In 2002 the Navy chose to withdraw a portion of the Truman Waterfront parcel known as the Mole Pier for continued military operations, and in February 2013 the Navy closed Truman Harbor to all but military/federal operations.
Today the Navy uses the harbor, surrounding waterfront and the balance of Truman Annex for supporting warships, special operations training and Joint Interagency Task Force South’s counter illicit trafficking mission. Demes said many other operations including “highly classified activities” also take place on the property, but added that the Navy, “wants a world class park. If [the city] wants to go out there tomorrow and sod the whole place, we say, ‘Have at it!’”
Last year the Navy issued a two-page list of comments in response to the Truman Waterfront Advisory Board’s master plan that conflicted with the deed restrictions like easements, height restrictions and other issues that interfere with the Navy’s mission of maintaining national security.
This past Thursday, City Planning Director Don Craig said his department is meeting with the Navy on Monday to continue discussions on the Navy’s requirements such as the removal of any buildings within 50 feet of naval property – like the Police Athletic League Building that houses many after school programs.
District IV Commissioner Tony Yaniz said he will oppose any effort to bulldoze the Police Athletic League building when the Major Development Agreement comes before the commission this May.
“It makes no sense to bulldoze the PAL building and horse stables,” Yaniz said. “We need a facility now. To bulldoze the PAL and give [the kids] no place to go is disaster.”
According to Craig, three options are currently in the works to relocate the students and athletes to other locations around town – like Glenn Archer Elementary.
Craig said the reason for tearing down the PAL Building is two-fold; its interferes with the Navy’s deed restriction and encroaches on the multi-use playing field.
Yet many of the master plan’s features, prepared by the appointed members of the Truman Waterfront Advisory Board (TWAB) and submitted to the commission last year, have been placed on hold as funding for the park changed without an economic engine such as a marina to drive the construction features.
The master plan includes a 24,000-square-foot community center, restaurant, interactive water feature, horse stables and an amphitheater.
“The Waterfront Advisory Board understood and agreed that the amphitheater may or may not be built,” said TWAB Chairman Robert Cintron. “There may not be enough funds. And the community center may never be built.”
“Does the city want to borrow money?” asked Cates. “I don’t think so. I support building it when you have the money saved.”
Craig said the city has $12.5 million in current reserves for the park and could see another $6 to $7 million in two years for the project from the city’s capital infrastructure budget.
“We will be under construction in one fashion or another sometime this year,” said Craig. “It’s a complicated process, but we have to do it that way because we have a limited amount of funding and you have a very complicated process. It’s not just like snapping your fingers and making something happen. We are not in the private sector and processes have to be followed and that is what we are doing.”
“When the commission comes back, then we will setup our phases depending on how much money we have,” said Cates.
The planning commission will be the first to see the amended Major Development Plan on March 20 and will most likely then pass the plan to the city commission in May. According to Craig, since the city has been working closely with the Navy from the beginning, they expect an expedited approval.
• $12.5 million in the bank for Phase 1 and 1a
• The Navy will continue to allow use of the harbor and seawall for public benefit as long as the event does not interfere with key military operations.
• Plan vetted and approved by the Truman Waterfront Advisory Board, Bahama Village Redevelopment Advisory Committee, Tree Commission, HARC, Planning Commission, City Commission and more.
• Phase 1 construction to commence June/July
(involves 80 percent of the property, slated to start in summer)
• Continuous walking path from the Westin property to the Fort Zach State Park
• Irrigation and other infrastructure
• Turnaround and transit stops
• Neighborhood and public parking
• 8-foot wide bike path
• Relocation of USCGC Ingham
• Kids interactive water feature and playground
• Merill McCoy Public Gardens
• Pedestrian/bicycle bridge to Westin property
• Multi-use recreation field
• KW Police horse stables
• Renovation of Building 103
• Community Center