Key West CitizenJune 18, 2017

In 2010, after soliciting proposals to lease vacant buildings on Mallory Square, the city chose Tropical Soup Company’s proposal to build a new, two-story restaurant on the site of an historic Cable Hut. That proposal foundered in 2013, when the City Commission wisely rejected a height variance.

Sadly, the long-neglected Cable Hut continued to deteriorate while Tropical Soup repeatedly proposed “modified designs,” each of which was rejected for noncompliance with HARC guidelines. The last such proposal was unanimously denied by HARC at its May meeting, where HARC commissioners and public speakers called for a new RFP to restore the Cable Huts and for better coordination among city staff to avoid repeating the mistake of issuing an RFP without considering applicable regulations. 

It’s time for the City Commission to end lease negotiations with Tropical Soup and to restart the RFP process. The 2010 proposal was doomed by a flawed design assumption, and today that proposal is as stale as a 7-year-old loaf of bread. What landowner would enter into a lease in mid-2017 based on recession-era assumptions? And when will the city stop trying to solve the city’s revenue problems by leasing every vacant piece of public land as a bar or restaurant?

Built in the 1920s and 1930, the Cable Huts represent Key West’s role in the history of undersea telecommunications technology. A local nonprofit association has provided restoration plans that could form the basis of a new RFP. The city could issue a separate RFP to rent the vacant Hospitality House. Preservation of these unique historic resources should be the primary objective of such RFPs, with revenue generation a necessary but subordinate goal. It is imperative that the City Commission preserve our historic waterfront for generations to come.

A new RFP could attract serious proposals for restoration and reuse of the Cable Huts without any substantial cost to city taxpayers, and without adding more unneeded bar stools and restaurant seats. Let’s put an end, now, to the shameful neglect of the Cable Huts; the city should issue a restoration RFP without further delay.

Bill Verge

Key West