Florida Keys

This side of Key West has a bin of rotting seaweed. Does it need a park and a food truck?

This Dumpster filed with rotting seaweed greets visitors to the ocean pier at 1400  Duval St.
This Dumpster filed with rotting seaweed greets visitors to the ocean pier at 1400 Duval St. FLKeysNews.com

This quiet end of Key West’s Duval Street floods when it rains. And it’s a headache to navigate by car.

A seaweed-filled garbage bin anchors the edge of the block, which has an ocean view.

A hotel owner and developer is proposing a park for the area, where the only traffic would be wandering pedestrians. Michael Halpern wants it so badly that he says he would have private donors pay for construction and has offered to maintain the park for the city.

Plans call for sculptures, landscaping — in planters — and concrete pavers covering the block.

But ideas such as a sidewalk cafe, with businesses paying rent to the city, Halpern says, and possible a food truck have irked local historic preservation advocates. They’re skeptical of the so-called pocket park and remind everyone of the block’s jewel: the nationally recognized landmark Southernmost House hotel mansion.

Currently the 1400 block of Duval Street is home to nine metered parking spaces outside the Southernmost House hotel mansion. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

“Before we know it there will be food trucks and other vendors and a Ferris wheel in the middle,” said Dana Day, of the group Keep Old Town Old.

Halpern said in 40 years of developing projects in Key West he’s never received so much support for a plan.

“Everywhere I go in the city, people encourage me,” he told the Historic Architectural Review Commission last month.

While the Southernmost House is a sight to behold, this end of Duval Street is no pretty postcard. On Monday, a garbage bin teemed with rotting seaweed and a sign warned against swimming at the pier due to high bacteria levels in the water.

“The street as it is today is filthy,” said Halpern, the hotel owner. “The Dumpster is filthy; we figured out a way to get rid of it. The garbage cans are disgusting. We will make this street beautiful if you give us a chance.”

Halpern said city planners originally approached him about improving the block.

City commissioners will vote on the pocket park proposal Tuesday night. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at Key West City Hall, 1300 White St.

“I’ll be paying 100 percent of the cost of it,” he said. “After I pay for the park, it will be turned over to the city and they will have complete control over everything that will appear in the park. If the city asks me to maintain it, I will maintain it.”

Several locals fear the park will become overloaded with additions. Halpern has asked to place a food truck on the Southernmost House’s property.

“Food trucks at the Southernmost mansion, come on?” said Sharon Wells, a local historian. “It’s a historic property being bastardized.”

Wells said she isn’t against a park at the spot but wants the city to pay for it.

“Just make it a simpler thing and not kowtow to developers which is exactly what the city is doing,” she said.

Hugh Morgan, an attorney who lives about 70 feet from the site, said he is in favor of a park but wants to make sure it’s a public park.

“Who is going to own it?” Morgan asked the Historic Architectural Review Commission. “Is it going to be privatized or is the city going to own it?’

The city, Halpern and city planners say.