Rebuilding Pigeon Key


They’re down, but not out. Both Pigeon Key, the tiny and historic island in the middle of the 7 Mile Bridge, and Marathon Community Theatre, the homegrown theatre and cinema, sustained significant damage from Hurricane Irma. And while the task is formidable, it’s completely within the organizations’ reach to rebuild.


It really looks worse from the highway.

“Your eye is immediately drawn to the two damaged buildings,” said Kelly McKinnon, executive director of the Pigeon Key Foundation. “And, really, if we had to choose two buildings to be damaged, those would be the ones. Neither is essential to the operation of the island.”

McKinnon said the buildings pushed off the foundations included staff housing and a small dormitory.

Pigeon Key expects to open the gift shop in front of the Hyatt Faro Blanco next week, and ferry service to the island within the next 30 days.

The Pigeon Key Foundation has set up a Go Fund Me page (search Pigeon Key Hurricane Relief) with a modest goal of $25,000. Because it is on the National Register of Historic Places, anything that has to be replaced will be done to that standard. McKinnon said many of the needs are already met, but volunteers are welcome. In fact, the first to arrive were Villanova University alumni, among them Paul Speaker, the co-owner of the World Surf League, which organizes the annual tour of professional surf competitions. He was already in Texas for Harvey, and connected with Michael Carricarte of Ocean Reef who suggested helping Pigeon Key, so Speaker kept on heading east towards the Keys.

“Instead of affecting a handful of households, by working at Pigeon Key we were able to affect hundreds of kids downstream who attend camps there,” he said of the work he and eight buddies accomplished on what should have been a golf vacation.

The Pigeon Key Foundation is organizing a day for more helpers to come out and volunteer at the islands, details to be determined.

McKinnon said the little island was incredibly lucky.

“We should be a bare piece of cap rock right now,” he said, “but with the community’s support we will rebuild. We see incredible progress every single day.”


At Marathon’s center of the arts, members have gone from memorizing lines to counting ceiling tiles.

“The roofing rolled up from either side like two big cigars, taking a 12-ton air conditioning unit with it. The water just poured in,” said Jim “Boomer” Kelly, president of the Marathon Community Theatre.

And while news of the theatre’s damage is widespread, the community has been slow to realize the destruction encompasses the movie theatre as well. It took the brunt of the damage and theatre officials plan to rebuild it first.

“That is our first priority,” Kelly said, “It’s important for our families.”

The theatre’s damage is estimated at more than $200,000 and includes costumes, set pieces, the roof (both inside and out), the industrial A/C units and some flooring. And, yet, it could have been worse. Mitigation started right after the storm, as Kelly and a small cadre of theatre devotees did not evacuate; they worked 14 hours a day to mop up the water and haul out damaged goods. And professional roofers started drying in the space only four days after Irma passed.

“The mold was already crawling up the walls, all over the ceilings,” Kelly said.

The important things were saved — most of the theatre lights, the projector for the cinema, those comfy red chairs. And the plans to rebuild include hardening the building for future storms.

The theatre’s season schedule has been scrapped. In its place is a modified season beginning on Nov. 14 with a show yet to be determined, with another show planned for the holidays.

Theatre member Alison Sayer said MCT plays a vital role in the community with its stage performances, dance classes, children’s summer theatre and also the movie theatre.

“Marathon Community Theatre brings the arts to our island community,” she said

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