I never thought it would happen. I couldn’t envision how it would look, or how the city would ever come to an agreement about what should and shouldn’t be included in plans for the infamous Truman Waterfront Park.
I’d been hearing about this huge chunk of downtown waterfront, a gift from the Navy, since I got here in 1998.
That’s about when the dreaded “charrettes” started. Charrette? Really? They were meetings, just meetings, meant to gather public input. I still don’t know whose genius idea it was to use a word no one ever uses, EVER, when trying to encourage people to attend these things.
But people did attend, plenty of people, all with different ideas of what a giant park should offer. There were more than a dozen charrettes, and just when we’d get close to an agreement, then a plan and even a diagram of where things would go, something would change.
Then, slowly, very slowly, things started happening. Decisions were made and upheld. Last-minute suggestions by people who came late to the table were shot down.
And suddenly, as if by magic (because I admittedly had stopped paying attention for a while), we had a park, a truly lovely showplace park. There are still final phases to complete, but 2019 was the year that giant chunk of bland military space truly became Truman Waterfront Park. It was also the year we decided to name the park’s fantastic new amphitheater after one of the island’s most enduring musical personalities, Lofton “Coffee” Butler. That was a unanimous no-brainer by the Key West City Commission.
Things weren’t always unanimous on the commission dais in 2019, but the year saw plenty of new people and projects.
The city banned the sale of some types of sunscreen (starting at a later date) and then banned plastic straws, although a new statewide bill could challenge its authority to do so.
Greg Veliz took the reins as city manager from Jim Scholl, who retired after a blessedly quiet hurricane season, and has been making things happen since Day 1, drawing praise from the commissioners.
Mayor Teri Johnston and Jimmy Weekley were able to give their vision of a Mall on Duval pedestrian promenade a shot despite mixed reactions from business owners and residents. But at least the project got people talking about improving our main tourism corridor. And God knows it can use some work — not to mention a touch of class.
The Duval Pocket Park opened and looks really, really good at the south end of Duval Street. I never doubted it would, but plenty of naysayers criticized the city for leasing a neglected city block to businessman and attorney Michael Halpern. But Halpern paid to fix the drainage issues down there, built the park and now he can install tables and chairs there for Seaside Café, the food truck Halpern’s son, Rafe, runs at the adjacent Southernmost House Hotel. But as is required by the lease, the park is open to the public with no requirement or expectation that they buy food or drink.
The city also struggled this year with cosmetic shops on Duval Street and picketers who protested their aggressive sales tactics, managing to force a few out of business.
Key West broke ground on 103 new apartments on College Road and finalized an agreement with the sheriff to keep the homeless shelter where it is.
It was a busy, busy year in the Southernmost City, but as luck would have it, I didn’t have to cover a single damn charrette. Happy New Year, Key West! Onward and upward for 2020.