Anyone looking to buy a lot of land in Key West need look no further than Peary Court, as the 23-acre neighborhood of 157 town house is hitting the market.
Balfour Beatty Communities, which manages military housing for Navy bases throughout the Southeast, including Peary Court and other Navy properties in the Florida Keys, began informing tenants on Wednesday, company spokeswoman Kathy Grim said.
The Navy began renting Peary Court units to civilians in addition to military personnel less than two years ago. Existing leases will be honored while marketing firm GMH Capital Partners begins researching how much the property is worth and luring potential buyers, Grim said. A price had not been set as of Thursday, Grim said.
The Navy owns the land and Balfour Beatty owns the town houses and other structures, but they struck a deal to combine both for the sale. Balfour Beatty will reinvest the money into Navy housing throughout the Southeast, Naval Air Station Key West commander Capt. Pat Lefere said.
"Those improvements will be made across the region and not just in Key West, and that is obviously something I'm watching very closely," Lefere said.
The sale is part of the Department of Defense's nationwide move across all military branches to generate funding and make housing improvements in light of a study that shows more available housing than needed, Lefere said.
"Back in 1995, for instance, we had a much larger amount of military men and women in Key West," Lefere said. There were no buyers as of Thursday and Grim stressed that the new owner will be required to honor current resident leases as part of the sale contract.
"We've begun the marketing process," Grim said. "We're still very much in our first step, which is the announcement and to let tenants know that we're here to discuss any concerns."
Lefere said it could take "a year, if not longer" to sell Peary Court.
Ninety-seven percent of the town houses are occupied, but Balfour Beatty does not release exact figures, Grim said.
How much the property is worth may depend on what someone is willing to pay, said Key West City Manager and former Navy base commander Jim Scholl, who said the city's Planning Department has already begun the process of determining how the property will be zoned once it is added to the tax rolls.
Such a large swath of land near The Meadows neighborhood should lure a buyer, but it's hard to say how long that will take given current economic woes and the unique Key West real estate market, Scholl said.
"That's part of an historic area between Palm Avenue and White Street that includes two bedroom with 1 1/2 bath townhomes in a duplex or triplex configuration with plenty of off-street parking," Scholl said. "It's a very nice enclave, but to be honest with you, I don't know what someone would be willing to pay."
Balfour Beatty will continue to manage the property while a price is researched and a sale is finalized, Grim said. Tenants knew a sale was looming, Grim said.
"I heard several things earlier that the sale was coming," sailor Nicholas Davis stated in a press release Balfour Beatty issued Thursday. "I am expecting to transfer in nine months, so I don't see this impacting me and my family. But I can see how stressful this news can be for other families who are not transferring."
Senior Vice President of Investment Sales for GMH Capital Partners, David R. Forrest, was not available for comment, as he was traveling from Key West to Philadelphia Thursday.
Peary Court has been a part of Key West history since the 1800s, when it was an Army post. In 1994, Peary Court made headlines when former City Commissioner Harry Powell threatened to blow himself up because the Navy was planning to build housing on the site, which the city had leased from the Navy for years and used as a park.
Balfour Beatty asked tenants with questions about their lease or the pending sale to call 305-292-5590.