a welcome sign at the entrance to paradise usa
The current welcome sign was donated to the city by local Rotary clubs more than a decade ago. CONTRIBUTED

The replacement of Key West’s welcome sign prompted some debate at the last city commission meeting.

The current sign in the center median was funded and donated to the city by three local Rotary clubs more than a decade ago. It later garnered national headlines in 2017, when the sign went missing following Hurricane Irma in September of that year. The sign was presumed to have fallen in the storm and then been stolen.

The Rotary clubs asked for the sign back, no questions asked. It later turned up in Fort Myers and was returned to the southernmost city. Rotarians again paid to restore and reinstall the sign.

Now, two grants of $100,000 each will fund new landscaping around the entrance to the island as well as the new sign.

But there was some debate as to whether the Rotary clubs were aware of plans to replace the current sign.

The existing sign includes the legend “Rotary Clubs of Key West” at the bottom. The new sign as proposed would not have those words.

Mayor Teri Johnston said some Rotarians were in attendance at the two publicly noticed workshops about the project. Commissioner Lissette Cuervo Carey said the president of at least one Rotary Club was unaware of the project. 

A proposed design for the new welcome sign at the entrance to Key West must be approved by the city commission, then by the Florida Department of Transportation. CONTRIBUTED

Rotarian Warren Leamard called the new plans “a slap in the face to the hundreds of Rotarians who support this city in so many ways. At the very least, the city should have reached out to the clubs.”

City Manager Al Childress pledged to reach out to the public and the Rotary Clubs before seeking final approval for the new sign from the Florida Department of Transportation. 

Commissioner Billy Wardlow added that the city should also ask FDOT to install some parking spots near the sign’s new location (on the right side of U.S. 1 when entering Key West) to allow people to safely stop and take photos at the sign.

Current plans for the new sign include the words, “Welcome to Key West,” along with either the city seal or an image of a conch shell. The sign will be made of coral rock and will be lighted at night. 

There was also discussion at the July 13 commission meeting about whether to have something on the back of the sign thanking people for visiting Key West, much like the Islamorada sign, with its sportfishing motif, says, “Catch ya later.”

All the details are still being worked out.

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.