September 5, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW?Free Press
Once a disused and dilapilated restaurant building at mile marker 81 on Upper Matecumbe Key is demolished, it could create more open space for a park project developed by the Islamorada Foundation.

KEVIN WADLOW?Free Press Once a disused and dilapilated restaurant building at mile marker 81 on Upper Matecumbe Key is demolished, it could create more open space for a park project developed by the Islamorada Foundation.

ISLAMORADA — Project 81, an effort by an Islamorada nonprofit group to secure more green space on Upper Matecumbe Key, seems poised on the brink of becoming real.

“We’re excited,” said J.C. Mikula, president and chairman of The Islamorada Foundation. “We felt it was time to work on acquiring our own parcel for a community park. That’s essentially what it is.”

A 1.39-acre property at mile marker 81 caught the group’s eye. An 8,200-square-foot restaurant building on the lot has gone through a number of incarnations under names like the Iguana Club and Atlantic Grill.

Vacant for years, the structure has badly deteriorated, Mikula said.

Project 81 envisions demolishing the building to provide space for parking, a shaded children’s playground, two pickleball courts, walking paths and an open activity field.

A tentative agreement with the landowner was negotiated in June with a closing now expected within a few weeks. A $1 million donation from an Islamorada Foundation benefactor made it possible.

“We saw an opportunity,” Mikula said. “There was an inclination that we might get bigger philanthropic support if we have a bigger project.”

The Islamorada Foundation’s volunteers built a track record of managing and maintaining Southwinds Park, a 1.1-acre Upper Matecumbe site acquired by the village of Islamorada.

As the island often referred to as “Islamorada’s downtown” gained popularity with visitors and retail establishments catering to them, local residents chartered The Islamorada Foundation in 2010 to secure open public areas on Upper Matecumbe.

“We saw the writing on the wall,” Mikula said. “With everything that happening, we felt we could lose our small-town aspect.

“The whole idea behind this was to provide residents and visitors with places to enjoy green space,” he said. “Once we own the property, no other commercial establishments can occupy it.”

Project 81 aims to clear exotic vegetation from the lot, lying between U.S. 1 and the Old Highway, and replace the exotics with native trees and plants.

“We’re going to have to make it ugly before it looks good again,” Mikula said. “We need to let the natives come back.”

A number of environmentally friendly initiatives are planned.

Pace of adding the recreational amenities likely will be determined by the ability to solicit grants and other donations.

For more information, visit islamoradafounation.org or email info@theislamoradafoundation.org.

kwadlow@keysnews.com