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Florida Keys News
Sunday, August 18, 2013
ON THE WATERFRONT
Advisory panel member grouses over pace of project

Even in laid-back, relax-you're-on-island-time Key West, the city's progress in redeveloping the Truman Waterfront has sent one member of the project's advisory board to the tipping point, where frustration topples into anger.

Deeded over to the city by the Navy in 2002, the valuable 28.2-acre plot awaits $30 million worth of promises for an amphitheater, a generous playground, restaurants, shops and maybe even a museum of sorts.

But over the past year, the volunteer Truman Waterfront Advisory Board has met only once at Old City Hall, and that was a hastily called meeting in advance of a hot-button vote over whether to give a deep discount to a group wanting to build an assisted-living complex on the site.

Before that, the board had last met Aug. 20, 2012, according to the city's records. It was one of six meetings held that year.

The group is to meet again, though, 5:30 p.m. Monday at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.

"We are supposed to meet monthly on the third Monday," board member Richard Tallmadge wrote to all seven city commissioners in an Aug. 12 email. "This hasn't happened. I want to know why. This community wants this park. We have the resources to get it underway and make substantive progress. It isn't happening and it begs the question WHY NOT?"

That special meeting May 20 saw the board's seven voting members optimistically, and unanimously, endorsing the plan for the $32 million senior housing center to go up where Bahama Village begins.

But several commissioners didn't agree with their appointed advisory board members over the project. It later failed at the City Commission by one vote over the idea of letting publicly owned land go for below market-rate rent.

Created by the commission in 2009, the advisory board's job includes advising city leaders on projects and uses of the waterfront and to "promote the rehabilitation, revitalization, conservation and redevelopment of lands and structures," according to the commission's resolution.

Tallmadge, who owns The Restaurant Store and is the appointee of Mayor Craig Cates, wrote a few choice observations after realizing the latest agenda for the board was set by city staff in an email blast that didn't include commissioners.

"I would encourage you to attend this session of the Truman Waterfront Advisory Board," Tallmadge wrote.

Tallmadge wants the board to hammer out a timeline on development along with a list of priorities, and talk about hiring an independent project manager.

The advisory board's agenda for Monday has the proposed amphitheater at the top of the Truman Waterfront to-do list.

Estimated to cost more than $7 million, the amphitheater is the subject of a 47-page grant application by the city to the Monroe Tourist Development Council (TDC).

In the application, City Manager Bob Vitas asks the TDC for a $2 million grant to help defray costs of a 13,748 square-foot amphitheater with 250 seats and lawn seating for an extra 1,000 to 2,000 people.

The parking lot alone would cost more than $786,000, according to the grant application, which says it would like the TDC to fund 29 percent of the total $7 million bill.

Tallmadge isn't certain where the amphitheater-as-priority came from, having received an email from Senior Project Manager Doug Bradshaw outlining Monday's agenda.

"Where did that come from?" Tallmadge asked in his email to commissioners. "Who made that decision? Why wasn't that discussed and vetted by this board? Who's driving the bus?"

Board member and attorney Robert Cintron weighed in.

"You go to the trouble to create an advisory board and you get folks to volunteer to serve on it, you either have to respect the advisory board or abolish it," said Cintron. "The last thing we approved was basically the conceptual design of where stuff was going to be, certainly nothing that would come close to being the designed project. I certainly had no idea the amphitheater was going to be that kind of money."

Key West's big plans for Truman Waterfront have taken some body-blows in recent months.

For starters, the idea for a private outfit to build a marina that would pour revenue into maintenance of the park died earlier this year when the Navy announced it was closing off its harbor to public boats.

Then the Navy's Jacksonville real estate office flirted with the idea of putting out to public bid the use of its Outer Mole pier, which Key West depends on as one of three ports for cruise ships.

After a scare, the city won its plea with the Navy to maintain exclusive rights to lease the pier, but the sides are still hashing out an agreement, the mayor pointed out.

Cates said he understands Tallmadge is frustrated with the speed, or lack thereof, of the waterfront's development. On an island where every square inch of land is precious, though, the city wants to make certain it makes no mistakes on this project, he said.

"We want to make sure what we do build there, we don't have to change," said Cates on Saturday. "There's so much going on; we need to get focused. It's great they're going to meet again, and let's see where we're at and prioritize a few things. There have been a few changes."

City staff put three discussion items on the advisory board's plate Monday: the amphitheater grant, possible uses for the few acres originally planned for the assisted living units and "environmental issues" at the waterfront.

"Please email me if you can make the meeting so I can determine if we will have a quorum," ends the email sent by Bradshaw.

The rest of the voting members are: Sandra Walters, appointed by Commissioner Tony Yaniz; Sandra McMannis, appointed by Commissioner Teri Johnston; Jim Gilleran, appointed by Commissioner Billy Wardlow; Pat Labrada, appointed by Commissioner Mark Rossi; and Albert Sullivan, appointed by Commissioner Jimmy Weekley.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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