Just one year ago, a wrecking ball was inches away from Bahama Village’s Keys Energy Services diesel plant. Thanks to public outcry, the call went out to save the historic buildings and the Key West Art and Historical Society stepped up to the city commission podium. When the bid went out for candidates, only the society responded, and on Feb. 20, the society’s 32-page proposal for the stabilization and redevelopment of the former Keys Diesel Plant was approved unanimously (with Commissioner Jimmy Weekley absent). The property will find new life within the next decade as a premier multi-use cultural facility, outlined as an interactive museum, a restaurant and microbrewery, and mixed-use space and visual gallery.

“It’s a big win for the community and historic preservation,” said Michael Gieda, executive director of the Key West Art and Historical Society. “It would have been easier to knock them down, but then we lose our cultural identity. There are lots of opportunities to incorporate the buildings into the neighborhood and the history of Bahama Village. We want to make the complex as educational as possible and something the entire community can be proud of.”

D.I.E.S.E.L. (Discovery, Industry, Engineering,
Science, Experience and Learning)

Now, the society can negotiate a 20-year lease with the city for the projected eight- to 10-year project. Gieda outlined three phases of construction, starting with phase one, which will take one to two years beginning with “preliminary stabilization efforts” and shoring up the buildings once deemed unusable. Phase two is finalizing architectural plans and funding, and phase three will focus on converting the buildings into museums, gallery space, and restaurant. While there is no estimated cost for the entire project, the society will seek grants and continuously fundraise to accomplish the renovation.

Speaking on behalf of the project, HARC chairman Brian Green said, “We looked at what was appropriate for the site and are delighted with the proposal; everyone should be pleased.” Gieda said the society listened to public input and sought HARC approval throughout the planning. Working on the rehabilitation efforts will be architect Bert Bender with Bender and Associates, who has worked with the society many times, and the K2M firm.

Since 1949, the society has renovated and operated four major Key West museums that significantly improve our community and tourism: Fort East Martello Museum, Key West Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters, the Tennessee Williams Museum and the Custom House Museum.

Here’s a breakdown of how the five Diesel Plant buildings will be transformed into the new D.I.E.S.E.L. cultural and historic center.

Building 1: will be a three-level interactive museums focused on the “industrial history of Key West and the Florida Keys.” The foundation for the museum will be STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) with a Keys focus with an entrance on Fort Street.

Building 2: Restaurant and microbrewery

The famed generator will be relocated outside on Fort Street while the rear generator will remain inside. Salvageable equipment will be saved but the rest cleared out for restaurant space and entrance on Fort Street.

Building 3A-B: Multipurpose space, deemed initially unsafe in 2016, will be demolished except for the foundation slab. The intended use of Building 3 is for a multi-use space for the society’s youth and adult education programs, theatrical and musical performances, community use and rentals. With part of Building 3 removed, the public would have access to Fort Street, adding an access point from Bahama Village to Truman Waterfront Park.

Building 4: Interactive museum; it will be attached to the museum and the original equipment will remain in the building.

Building 5: Kitchens and restrooms

The original building will be demolished and rebuilt to house a kitchen for the restaurant and additional bathrooms.

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Hays Blinckmann is an oil painter, author of the novel “In The Salt,” lover of all things German including husband, children and Bundesliga. She spends her free time developing a font for sarcasm, testing foreign wines and failing miserably at home cooking.