Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi, left, Gov. Ron DeSantis, and Commissioner Michelle Coldiron in Vero Beach. MONROE COUNTY/Contributed

A reimagined Rowell’s Park is underway with construction of a restroom and a small parking lot. Realignment of the entrance and a deceleration lane into the park are also phase one enhancements, which is creating some traffic backups near the park at MM 104. 

Adding to a revamped Rowell’s is a nearly $3-million grant county officials received on Feb. 28 during Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press conference in Vero Beach. The governor awarded more than $4.4 million to communities in southeast Florida through the Rural Infrastructure Fund and Community Development Block Grant program. Monroe County received the most money, $2.9 million, out of the four municipalities awarded. 

“By connecting Floridians with the resources they need to create jobs, support new talent and help businesses to stay open and grow, we are supporting Florida’s economic resiliency,” DeSantis said. “I will continue seeking strategic approaches to long-term opportunity for all Floridians.”

Accepting the grant award were Monroe County Commissioner Michelle Coldiron and Administrator Roman Gastesi. According to a county press release, the award will bring more amenities to Rowell’s Waterfront Park in the project’s second phase. That includes more parking, restrooms, shared-use paths, lighting and electricity and Wi-Fi.

“While we are the southernmost county in the state of Florida, we are thankful Governor DeSantis always remembers us,” Coldiron said during the press conference.

An 8-acre waterfront park located at MM 104.5 bayside, Rowell’s Park entered phase one of upgrades last summer. The Board of County Commissioners bought Rowell’s Marina in December 2013 with the intention of making it into a public park. Littlejohn Engineering Associates began the design phase in December 2016. 

In April 2019, conceptual plans unveiled to the public brought favorable response to the amenities proposed for the park. Key West’s Charley Toppino & Sons, who also worked on the Truman Waterfront Park in Key West, is handling the project. Phase one costs are around $1.4 million. It’s funded by the Tourist Development Council, $500,000, and the county, $900,000.

An aerial of Rowell’s Park at MM 104, bayside, in Key Largo. DAVID GROSS/Keys Weekly

“The project management team worked very hard with the support of numerous county departments to receive this funding for Rowell’s Park,” said Cary Knight, county project management director. “This grant allows us to move our community’s vision of Rowell’s Park forward.”

A master plan shows a park pay station/pay booth to charge non-residents, but it’s not a part of any upcoming project construction phases. County officials maintain, however, that the park will remain free to locals. 

Rowell’s Park is home to a number of community events, including the annual Buccaneer Blast Regatta, Fourth of July festivities, Key Largo Bridge Run and the upcoming Carnival celebration for Key Largo School’s 50th year. 

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).