A planned West Marine superstore at the corner of Grinnell and Caroline streets could open within a year.
And the marina owner, who will lease the property to the retail chain, thus far does not appear to be raising many hackles among its future neighbors.
The 13,500-square foot-plus store will offer expanded selections of clothing and boating supplies, similar to newer locations the store has opened at Fort Myers and elsewhere. That makes it smaller than the 25,000-square foot store it opened in Fort Lauderdale.
Craig Hunt, owner of Conch Harbor Marina, showed a video presentation explaining West Marine's plans Wednesday to the city's Key West Bight Board, which makes recommendations to the City Commission on matters concerning the waterfront space.
The board has no jurisdiction over the privately owned property. Hunt said he made the presentation as a courtesy, since the property and the bight, right at the Key West waterfront, are so closely entwined.
Bight Board members had no questions after the presentation.
"Conch Harbor is one bookend of the Harbor Walk, so being right there, the store will bring more people," said Hunt, who purchased the property nearly three years ago but wasn't certain what to do with it.
"[Marine] West is a long-term AAA player. I don't know anyone who will bring more exposure to that part of Caroline Street. It is the perfect tenant. They have already proven themselves to be a good neighbor and a quiet one. It's an ideal marriage."
The planned structure has a look that contrasts sharply with that of the present West Marine store at William and Caroline streets, a bleak, metal-fronted structure with a distressed plank walkway and nautical rope handrails.
Residents living closest to the project say they have had concerns, though.
Some would rather not see a big retail store at their doorsteps, but have also expressed an understanding that things could be worse. Hunt has come to them and asked their opinions, and that has gone a long way toward earning support for the project.
The style of the building fits in with the surrounding neighborhood, the city's Historic Architectural Review Commission has determined, to earn a passing grade.
"We appreciated that we were able to give some feedback," said Grinnell Street resident Julie Brown. "It is in keeping with the current buildings. It is not, in my opinion, very Key Westy, but neither is the current West Marine building. I would like it to look more Conchy."
Brown and other residents still have concerns about parking, but Hunt he had that in hand.
"On my own, I have 68 parking spaces underneath the plaza," Hunt said. "I have a parking agreement with the city for the garage across the street. West Marine themselves have only asked for 12 spaces. They know their needs; they could have asked for 25."
The parking issue at the proposed West Marine site was still a concern as well for city commissioners, who have not yet been asked to take action on the plan but eventually will see it officially. Parking is an overriding concern in the area because a planned hotel at William and Caroline will be making use of lot space.
"I haven't made up my mind about this only because it is going to get into density issues and parking," Mayor Craig Cates said.
Another project of Hunt's, reconfiguration of a dock area at his marina, was relieved of potential additional complaints from the Bight Board after he noted that drawings included with a state approval of his plan were those made prior to revisions, and they appeared to accept his contention that the new configuration should not conflict with bight operations next-door to his waterfront properties.