City and county officials are talking tentatively about trading the county-owned Higgs Beach for a piece of the city-owned property near the county airport. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Wanna trade? Higgs Beach for part of the HAWK missile site? A homeless shelter for a senior center?

Key West and Monroe County officials are talking very tentatively about swapping properties and partnering on the redevelopment of the old diesel plant at Truman Waterfront.

“The county could potentially trade Higgs Beach to the city in return for a portion of the city’s HAWK missile property near Government Road, which the county-owned airport needs for mitigation,” County Commissioner Craig Cates told the Keys Weekly on April 12. “The county doesn’t need to own a beach that’s in the center of the city.”

He emphasized that all discussions are very preliminary and no decisions are even close to being made. “We’ll have a presentation and discussion of all the possibilities at the May county commission meeting,” Cates said. “County Administrator Roman Gastesi is pulling all the numbers together.”

The now-vacant Bayshore Manor on College Road could be used as a temporary homeless shelter while the city of Key West rebuilds its Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) down the street. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Key West City Manager Patti McLauchlin said she has long had a vision for a cohesive community space around Higgs Beach, Knight Pier and Indigenous Park. “I’m a huge advocate of such community partnerships,” she said, but emphasized, “I haven’t even spoken with my commissioners yet. These are just ideas and there’s a lot to discuss.”

Those ideas include much more than the Higgs Beach/HAWK missile trade.

The county may let the city use its now-vacant Bayshore Manor property on College Road as a temporary homeless shelter while KOTS (Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter) is being rebuilt, Cates said. Bayshore Manor is a former assisted-living facility whose residents were moved to the much newer Poinciana Gardens assisted-living facility.

Keys Energy Services gave the historic diesel plant at Truman Waterfront to the city of Key West years ago. Discussions about its redevelopment have ramped up in recent years. CITY OF KEY WEST/Contributed

“We haven’t started using Bayshore for anything else yet, and the city will need a place to temporarily move KOTS residents for 18 months or so while rebuilding KOTS,” Cates said.

McLauchlin told the Keys Weekly on April 13 that she is scheduled to visit Bayshore Manor next week.

The final piece of the potential property puzzle could be a new city-county partnership to redevelop the historic diesel plant at Truman Waterfront to include a new senior center in part of the building.

The former HAWK missile site off Government Road in Key West is owned but underused by the city, due to environmental restrictions and proximity to the airport, which needs a portion of the 43-acre property for mitigation. CONTRIBUTED

“The county has $5 million in the bank to replace the senior center that used to be next to the Harvey Government Center on Truman Avenue,” Cates said. “What if the county goes in with the city to help restore the diesel plant and then use part of it as a senior center?”

Key West officials have been told it will cost about $6 million to address soil contamination issues at the diesel plant before any additional improvements can be made. The city has drafted, but not yet issued, a Request for Proposals seeking private partners in the diesel plant who could develop part of it for commercial use and part for public benefit.

City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, whose district includes the diesel plant, called Cates’ proposed property swaps and partnerships a “win-win across the board for the citizens of Key West and Monroe County,” Lopez told the Keys Weekly on April 13. “A senior center funded by the county wouldn’t solve the expense of restoration of the diesel plant, but it would be a tremendous first step.” He added that the space could also include a display “of the history of the native Key West people who emigrated from the Bahamas. The possibilities are many. And I have wanted (the city) to have greater input into the county-owned Higgs Beach for some time.”

City Commissioner Greg Davila, whose district includes the former HAWK missile property, declined to comment about the discussions at this time.

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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.