“What’s going on with the construction next to the airport?” 

People keep asking the question as they collect friends and relatives from Key West International Airport, or pass by on South Roosevelt Boulevard.

The work doesn’t involve the airport at all. Rather, the newly raised and graded field area behind Fort East Martello Museum — right in front of the airport — is being renewed to bring back East Martello Park, which was established in 1983 as an outdoor venue for various community events.

“This project reclaims the former East Martello Park, dedicated in 1983, that was initially proposed, funded and developed by Margo Golan and the McKee family,” said Michael Gieda, executive director of the Key West Art & Historical Society, which operates East Martello Museum. “By dealing with sea-level rise and flooding issues, KWAHS will be in a better position to host more community events moving forward.”

The event lawn will not feature an amphitheater, as people are saying around town, Gieda said.

It will be a park and field that can be used for a variety of outdoor events, including concerts, for up to 3,500 people.

“But there won’t be a permanent stage, seats or covered area,” he said. “We’ll erect a stage and bring in a sound engineer and system for concerts. The park will also be available for wedding rentals, and will be used by our education programs.”

Monroe County is managing the project with about $500,000 in funding from the Tourist Development Council. 

“This project will not only rejuvenate the area visually, but it will now have the infrastructure to support community events like concerts, art in the park events, maybe even a Royal Poinciana Festival at some point,” said Monroe County project management director Cary Knight. “This field is the first and last thing someone sees when they fly in and out of Key West, and the upgrades will complement and protect Fort East Martello for generations to come.”

The project has raised the field by a few inches in some areas to two feet in other areas to combat flooding that in the past had forced the cancellation of several events, Gieda said.

“By raising the field, we’re also protecting the fort from standing water, and enhancing an already existing venue,” he said. “So far the ground elevation was raised, an exfiltration and drainage system has been installed, and electrical lines have been run. Still to come is the upgraded power to the entire property, installation of light and electrical posts, sod, perimeter event fencing, and a lot of planting.”

The KWAHS is partnering with Save a Tree Foundation in Key West to raise money and replant the field with biodiverse, salt-tolerant native plants and trees, including royal poincianas, Gieda said.

“Monroe County was in discussions with KWAHS during the design phase and it was decided by both entities that the existing foliage was unlikely to survive the grading and trenching process,” he said, adding that the field is slated for completion in June or July 2021.

“It is our intention to rededicate the field, recognizing past and present donors, and for it to be used as a venue for our programs, concerts, rentals and other community events,” Gieda said.

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