KEY LARGO -- The Monroe County Commission could take a small step closer to purchasing Rowell's Marina when it considers approving bids Wednesday, April 17, to appraise the 8.1-acre bayfront propery.
For a total cost of $6,700, two appraisal companies will provide their reviews of the property in about a month, according to their proposals to the county. For properties valued above $500,000, the county purchases two appraisals.
County Administrator Roman Gastesi could offer few details last week about the property's price tag or whether the county would inherit any environmental problems should it move ahead with a purchase.
"We have a due diligence review," Gastesi said. "We will do a contamination assessment. That would be a bit premature [at this point]."
Gastesi said he is communicating with the property owner through Jim Cohen, who is affiliated with Boca Developers.
After the death of their father, the Rowell children in 2005 sold the mile marker 104 marina and property to Boca Developers for $6.5 million. The next year Boca Developers, sought approval from the county to transfer development rights from a Big Pine Key trailer park to the Key Largo property in order to build condominiums and estate homes there. The county, though, would not go along with converting affording housing units to upscale condominiums. Nothing was ever built and the property remains almost entirely open space.
Over the years, the property has played host to large community events, including chili cook-offs, craft beer and seafood festivals, and carnivals. The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce and other local groups have previously urged the county to purchase and preserve the property.
The acquisition would help pad the coffers of the Upper Keys businesses, said Craig Cope, president of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. In March, the chamber offered the commission a resolution supporting the purchase.
"It provides a great opportunity to host outdoor events," Cope said. "We would like to see improvements, and this is one of them."
When Gastesi was hired by the county, he said he attended 24 introductory meetings throughout the island chain, where the purchase of Rowell's Marina was mentioned several times.
A few years ago, Gastesi said he camped on the property during a sailing competition, and noted then that it would serve well as a miniature version of Islamorada's Founders Park.
If the county decides to purchase the property, it could take over a year of committee meetings and public hearings to determine how to design and use the property, Gastesi said.
"They will need to have a business plan that is self-sufficient," Cope agreed.
While building a waterfront park in Key Largo might sound desirable, some say the county's focus needs to remain on wastewater and infrastructure projects.
"It's Cudjoe first and then other wastewater projects," said County Commissioner Danny Kolhage, referring to the Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System, which is the county's last hurdle to complying with a state mandate to have centralized sewer systems operating in the Keys by the end of 2015.
"We need to look at county roads and bridges," Kolhage said. "We need to focus on our capital needs."
Like Kolhage, County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy is leery about taking her eyes off of the Cudjoe Key project, but she is optimistic that it is a well-funded priority project, given last fall's renewal of the county's one-cent infrastructure sales tax.
Murphy said she would be happy if the county could acquire the Rowell's Property at a reasonable price.
"It would be nice if we could own some waterfront property in Key Largo," Murphy said.
Though the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center sits on Key Largo's Tarpon Basin, it is not considered a park, nor does it have marina facilities.