The city of Key West is all about celebrating people and looking to the future

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

Last week was Key West Pride.

Johnston said, “We had a wonderful Pride Parade last night starting at five o’clock at the Truman Waterfront and came all the way down Duvall Street and I just want to thank our city manager Al Childress, who was in the car right behind me. City Commissioner Clayton Lopez was there and we were all also joined by County Mayor Holly Raschein and Commissioner Jim Scholl and Commissioner Michelle Lincoln. So thank you all and those three were walking the parade, so kudos to them. It came off without a hitch.”

There were some discussions at last week’s city commission meeting about Coffee Butler Amphitheater, particularly when it comes to St. Augustine.

Johnston said, “We had met when we were up there with the architect and the mayor of St. Augustine Beach, and the landscape architect and basically everybody that pulled together that amphitheater. Basically, St. Augustine Beach is a smaller community than the city of Key West. What we were most impressed about is that it’s lush, it’s green, there’s lots of shade, you can host an event there at their amphitheater at nine o’clock in the morning, one o’clock in the afternoon. You can still host events, if you’re getting rain and that’s what we’re looking at is how do we expand the use of the amphitheater that we have built and actually create more of an economic engine for the businesses in the city of Key West and bring in some bigger acts and utilize that facility for other things such as songwriters festival, such as the literary seminar? We happened to have a conversation with a number of members of the literary seminar who have to rent some huge tents at an incredible expense, because their seminar goes all day long. As temperatures rise in the Keys and all over the world, you cannot hold an event there. It’s just too hot. So we saw a wonderful presentation by these gentlemen, lots of questions. The great thing is that our current vendor down there was there. He’s been part of the design team from the very start. What we’re looking at is to create a larger stage, some backstage amenities, like a green room, and facilities for the acts so that we can draw some bigger acts. We’re looking at shading in and a sun sail over the venue, without blocking in any of the waterfront view. We’re looking at VIP seating and amenities for VIP seating and just bringing some upgrades to the facility. They were even looking at two stages, a smaller stage at the front, where we can hold smaller events and a larger stage, as you come into the amphitheater. Everything is lush green landscaping, there’s lots of shade, so an event can be held at any time of the year. This includes community events, too, because we’ve got a lot of organizations that would like to use the amphitheater. We’ve had the Key West High School graduation there several times and we’ve just had a lot of local events in and this would just make it more usable. It would create a new economic engine for the city of Key West, which we are always looking for, and create a spectacular venue for the locals and visitors alike.”

The cost could be almost $30 million.

Johnston said St. Augustine “funded the majority of theirs through their TDC and the TDC bonded this expenditure out and because it is such a revenue generator, they were able to pay off those bonds very, very quickly. We’re working with the mayor right now. He is giving us some details on the information that they provide TDC, how they worked together. So we are looking for that to incorporate those same ideas here in Key West. Records indicate that over 65% of all of our events, our music events in the city of Key West are from out of towners, so they are staying in our hotels, they are eating meals here. They’re visiting local shops and that’s really what drives the economy. Our locals love it. They love the amphitheater dearly. But I was fascinated to hear that number that over 65% of every ticket is sold to and out of towner.”

The hockey rink was also discussed.

Johnston said, “We are looking to put a new roof on the hockey rink. We’re also looking on the possibility of working with the county, the Monroe County School District. I think it was kind of enlightening to many of us, because we don’t own that facility. We did put a cover on it in I think 1997, I’ve been doing some work here. So we are going to repair that at a cost of between $200,000 and $300,000. Because we got some leaks up there in the roof. We are looking forward as we move forward and with the additional repairs and maintenance and the cost of maintaining that for our children throughout the county, we’re looking to partner with the school district on that. We did have an interlocal agreement on the agenda that we have postponed because the school district would like to sit down with us and we’d like to be able to share the expenses of keeping all of those facilities up to date and in tip top condition for our kids.”

A discussion about affordable housing also took place at last week’s meeting.

Johnston said, “The land authority puts about $3 to $4 million since COVID, into an account for the city of Key West to use for affordable housing, and a couple of other uses. There was a request last Thursday to use all of our money from 2024 and 2025 for two projects at Poinciana Plaza, which our Housing Authority is redoing some units and also, there’s a joint project with Florida Keys Outreach and with AH Monroe, and the Key West Housing Authority. My concern is the fact that we have the 3.2 under construction right now. It is about 30% completed and my concern is that we need to reserve some money to make sure that we can bring that over the finish line, get the people in there and housed in there in an affordable manner. I just have some concerns because on that commission, the same commission meeting, we had over $500,000 in change orders from just the Frederick Douglass Community Center and the John Jones Navigational Center. I think we can realistically expect change orders and additional costs for the 3.2. So I just want to make sure that there was enough money to make sure that we bring that long awaited project over the finish line. So that was my no vote on that that issue.”

Was there any further discussion about the bond issue?

Johnston said, “There was further discussion, and it was determined that we are going to have a special meeting on July 18 in order to bring that resolution back for the second reading. It’s plenty of time to get all of those referendums on the November ballot. So we are going to have a special meeting there. What we’ve asked for is more specificity in what we’re going to be using that money for, the cost of the projects that we’re going to be using it for, and to make sure that the public is comfortable, that this just isn’t an open credit card for us. We have massive infrastructure needs and you can tell that by our streets and our roads and the deferred maintenance that we have on our facilities. So we just need to provide some more information to our public so they’re comfortable, and it’s going to come out in actually four different referendum items. So if you’re particularly worried about our streets and our sidewalks, you can vote for that one. If you’re particularly concerned about sea level rise and how we’re combating that and becoming a more sustainable community, you can vote for that one. If you’re concerned about parks and recs, you can vote for that one. If you’re concerned about the fire station and our police facilities, you can vote for that one. So, what we want to do is take it out to the people and have our people decide, our taxpayers decide on this. So we’re going to put some more information together and we will have that back out and hopefully we’ll have that signed by July 18 and on the ballot.”