Florida Keys News
Friday, November 2, 2012
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Duval pedestrian mall being considered
One commissioner sees it stretching from the Atlantic to Gulf

A pedestrian mall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, where strollers can meander in and out of galleries, stop for lunch or cocktails while enjoying the island breeze is the vision one Key West city commissioner has for Duval Street, the island's gallery and entertainment hub.

The idea of turning Key West's most famous street into a pedestrian mall has been floated before, without success.

But Commissioner Tony Yaniz said recently that he thinks the time is right, and that past attempts can serve as learning tools if the city really wants to make the idea work.

A resolution that would require city staff to research the question for the next six months is on the agenda for Wednesday night's City Commission meeting.

"Let's look into it," Yaniz said. "They do this all over the U.S., all over Europe, and it has changed the dynamics. Every time we shut down parts of Duval Street people come, including locals. It becomes a welcoming scenario as opposed to a tourist trap."

Mayor Craig Cates acknowledges that turning major streets into pedestrian thoroughfares has worked well in some places, but that Duval contains complications that must be closely examined.

"There are a lot of obstacles," he said. "There is access there to a lot of alleys that don't come out the back side. I don't mind looking into it but I think there is going to be quite a bit of pushback."

Last year Commissioner Jimmy Weekley proposed shutting down the 500 and 600 blocks of Duval on specific evenings as a "café zone." But there were complaints about the idea from businesses that were not included in the plan. Yaniz says that's why an ocean-to-ocean pedestrian mall will work, with the potential of most business owners behind it.

Weekley disagrees, however, noting that his proposal was meant as a trial balloon, to see if turning a limited area of Duval into a mall would work, to see what difficulties might be encountered.

"Most people crawl before they walk," said Weekley, who hopes that, if city staff is directed to look at the idea, all potentials including a limited demonstration will be considered.

Commissioner Mark Rossi, who owns the Rick's/Durty Harry's entertainment complex on Duval, is flat-out opposed to the idea.

"It doesn't make sense," he said, noting its status as one of the "10 Great Streets for 2012" named by the American Planning Association's Great Places in America program. "It's one of the 10 best streets, are you going to change it now? Duval isn't broke, don't fix it."

Rossi acknowledged that making Duval a pedestrian mall for its entire 1-mile stretch would affect his business, in ways he does not welcome.

"It would affect the whole ambience," he said. "People cruising the street and going up and down, and the whole nine yards."

Because of the potential of a conflict, he plans to consult with City Attorney Shawn Smith to determine whether he must recuse himself from the discussion and vote.

Some business owners say they are open to the possibility, and wouldn't mind seeing the city at least look into it.

Stephanie Mitchell, one of the operators of the 7 Artists Galleries on the 600 block of Duval, said a look is warranted.

"I don't think it would be a horrible thing," she said. "It definitely increases foot traffic and as far as the environment is concerned it's good. I would say yes if it were something to be voted on."

jdesantis@keysnews.com

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