ISLAMORADA COUNCIL APPROVES PURCHASE OF CHURCH PROPERTY FOR $3.9 MILLION

a white building with a street sign and street lights
The Islamorada council voted 3-1 to purchase the Island Community Church property at 83250 Overseas Highway for $3.995 million during a May 9 meeting at Founders Park Community Center. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

A piece of historic property in Islamorada will switch owners from a local church to the village.

Despite price concerns and questions over the village’s intentions for the property, the Islamorada council voted 3-1 to acquire the Island Community Church parcel at 83250 Overseas Highway for $3.995 million. 

Church officials had another offer from a national pharmaceutical company. The village was given first dibs, however, following the council’s interest in exploring a possible purchase. A contract proposal was placed before council members for consideration and approval on May 7, but the decision was pushed two days to a May 9 meeting to give members time to digest the details.

Vice Mayor Sharon Mahoney originally brought the idea of purchasing property for a new library, after she was approached by Islamorada residents. Mahoney supported the purchase, given the number of big corporations scooping up property in the Keys and the ICC property being “far and few between” in terms of availability.

“I look at the neighborhood there … I wouldn’t want a CVS on top of me, and that’s what would have gone on top of that neighborhood,” she said. 

Mahoney also noted building a library wasn’t her main reason to support the property purchase. She highlighted needs for a meeting center for local groups, as well as workforce housing. 

“There’s all kinds of opportunities,” Mahoney said. 

Formerly the Cineamorada Theater, Island Community Church acquired the property in 1974. Fast forward to 2024, a growing congregation led ICC officials to begin plans to move services to property they own in the former Island Christian School building at 83400 Overseas Highway. 

Per the contract, ICC would be able to use the property for a year until the new facility is ready. 

Village Manager Rob Cole said the property’s appraised value is $4 million with the current public services zoning. The church was proceeding with a rezoning to highway commercial for the pharmacy. Cole said the property value would increase to around $4.4 million if rezoned to highway commercial. 

Councilman Henry Rosenthal, who previously attempted to buy the church to bring a theater venue, was the lone “no” vote. He said he couldn’t support spending millions of dollars without a plan for use of the property by the village. 

“I’ve been very conscious of, ‘How are you going to spend the money?’ The need is the important thing and I can’t justify the need,” he said.

Mayor Buddy Pinder and Councilman Mark Gregg supported the property purchase. Councilwoman Elizabeth Jolin recused herself due to a conflict of interest. 

Pinder said the village could always turn around and sell the property with certain conditions if the council can’t come up with a use. 

“I’m not for having more box stores in Islamorada,” he said.

The village will fund the purchase with $1.5 million in its unrestricted fund balance and $2.495 million from its capital fund.

Following the property purchase, council directed staff to bring back options to sell or figure a use for the village-owned Machado property at MM 88.6, which was purchased in 2021 for $1.8 million, as well as the former Island Silver & Spice property at MM 81.9, acquired in December 2021 for $2.75 million.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.