Let’s talk about the history of the Bahama Village

August 4 – When it comes to Key West, there’s no doubt it’s called paradise for a reason, but there’s also a lot of deep history on the islands.

John Smith, Florida Keys Black Historian, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about the origin of the Lofts at Bahama Village.

Smith said, “Back in around 1860 or so when they first started building Fort Zachary Taylor was a very interesting project going on, which the city used the local natives and they also had slaves imported to Key West to build Fort Zachary Taylor. Their contributions to the project often brought their freedom. I would like to share with you that back in 1884 when there was a map constructed of that area, it showed that the name of the Truman Waterfront property was called Lil Africana. That is where the black people lived then and many of them were able to purchase homes. So prior to eminent domain in the early 1940s, it was predominantly black.”

In that first map, Thomas Street, Emma Street and Fort Street (now in Bahama Village) went all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Smith continued, “As we move forward, coming to the early 1940s when the property was taken for eminent domain, it has been said because I have not seen the official documents, but the Navy promised to return this property back to the community and it wasn’t until 1992 when President Bill Clinton, he commissioned that base and gave to the city of Key West 33 acres of land. Of that 33 acres it was supposed to benefit the community that was right there, Bahama Village. Since then there’s been a few issues and things going on over there and some of you may know about the 6.6 acres that was first slated for Bahama Village, which later got reduced to 3.2 acres and today we are looking at the possibility of a housing development project to go on there. The community is very uncertain right now as to what will really happen to this sacred land and the project was awarded to a developer and they’ve named the development the Lofts at Bahama Village. The issue that we seem to be dealing with today about it is that of 126 units, there are only 28 units available for home ownership. In all reality this may be the last opportunity for many residents from Bahama Village and Key West that may have an opportunity to purchase a property that they will be able to stay on the island.”

Key West and Monroe County has seen a shortage in employees in just about every sector – there has also been a shortage of housing.

Smith said, “This project is one of the hopefully great answers for the city of Key West who desperately needs housing to bring more people in as a workforce.”

The community is asking the city of Key West clarify what the qualifications for purchasing the units at the Lofts will be.

Smith said, “We’re asking the city of Key West to do the right thing by the Bahama Village community which will allow people of color to be able to remain on the island. We welcome the workforce situation, but we also want to make sure that there is an opportunity for the community stay here and also long-time residents of Key West that have been eliminated for various reasons, usually it’s the price of rentals or employment. This project can give them an opportunity to come back to Key West and live. We are now just asking the city of Key West to do the right thing and to listen to the people and also to share what these final sale price numbers are and how they’ve come to them.”

Perhaps more than 28 units could be made available for home ownership.

Smith explained, “Otherwise it’s a project that I personally have said give the people from Bahama Village and the black people who are the descendants of the original owners, if they don’t have an opportunity to live on that property, I think that the property, that the project should be halted until we can figure this out.”

Smith plans to take the issues to the City Commission.

Smith said, “There will also be articles written. We just want to make sure that the entire community is on board with what’s going on.”