Just a few hundred yards separate Mallory Square from the city’s new showpiece at Truman Waterfront showpiece. It’d be a quick and easy walk from the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square, past the sprawling Margaritaville Resort, to a concert at the waterfront amphitheater. Well, it would be if not for that 45-foot gap of water that’s been interrupting waterfront access and frustrating city officials for 15 years.
Admiral’s Cut, the rectangular stretch of water, roughly the size of a wide boat slip, separates the city-owned Truman Waterfront from the marina and pedestrian promenade that are part of the Margaritaville Resort.
The owners of the resort also own Admiral’s Cut, and for 15 years have refused to allow the city to build a pedestrian bridge across it.
Such a bridge would connect Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center, the historic Coast Guard Cutter Ingham and all Truman Waterfront amenities with Margaritaville Resort, Mallory Square, Ocean Key Resort and the Pier House Resort. There would be only a brief interruption between Mallory Square and the Harborwalk that wraps around the city’s Historic Seaport.
It’s time to close the gap.
Admiral’s Cut wasn’t on the Nov. 6 agenda, but a question from Commissioner Jimmy Weekley at the end of the meeting prompted a lengthy discussion about renewed negotiations with the resort owners or pursuit of an eminent domain case in which a government can lay claim to private property for public use in exchange for compensation.
City Attorney Shawn Smith reminded the commission that he had extensively researched the eminent domain options 13 or so years ago.
“This has constantly been a frustrating discussion for an extended period of time and, again, I don’t know if the commission is ready to go down that route, because it is quite an expensive route most likely, but when you have a private property owner that isn’t willing to negotiate, then there is the prospect of eminent domain.”
Weekly asked Smith to explain the process, and Mayor Teri Johnston said, “I agree. This has been15 years now. We need a presentation on the table. We’re at the point of this being ridiculous.”
Commissioner Sam Kaufman pointed out that the city “is at a standstill with regard to what we can do with continued improvements at Truman Waterfront and Mallory Square.”
Kaufman pointed out that two cruise ships were in port last week at Mallory Square and at Pier B, which is also owned by the resort.
“That was 7,000 or 8,000 passengers who were unable to walk from their ships to the farmer’s market at Truman Waterfront, or any other event that would have been happening down there. I agree we should look at eminent domain for an easement.”
When Commissioner Billy Wardlow asked the attorney what the resort owners wanted, or why they refused to allow access across Admiral’s Cut, Smith said he had heard a variety of reasons for their reluctance over the years.
Most recently, the owners expressed concern about the pending proposal to redevelop the restaurant at Mallory Square and how it would affect nearby rooms at the resort.
Johnston then suggested that perhaps the city could look into moving the Mallory Square restaurant if it could be used in Admiral’s Cut negotiations.
The mayor also acknowledged the pending development application by local restaurateur Joe Walsh who for nearly a decade has been working to develop the Mallory Square restaurant amid lawsuits and other challenges from the city and the neighboring resort.
Attorney Shawn Smith told the commission he would aim to have a presentation about eminent domain ready for the Dec. 3 commission meeting.
“Maybe if we move down the eminent domain trail, it’ll identify what the real issue is, and we can address it as adults,” Johnston said.
Closing the gap and connecting Key West’s waterfront may be closer than ever, but still months or years from fruition.