Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #7 Covid Recovery Plan Focuses on Downtown and Business

By Chris Hamilton, December 26, 2020

Covid Plan In Sync with Our Issues

You may have noticed that six months ago Friends of Car-Free Key West became Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown. We changed the name out of a recognition that the way we use our streets, especially our main street and the commercial streets in our historic downtown, is a focus of our work. When more people bike, walk and use transit it enables us to repurpose more of our shared asset – streets – from private automobile storage to community and shared uses. It is the “Streets for People” in our slogan “Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People.” Thus we were very impressed that the City’s “Key West Recovers! A 17-Point Business and Humanitarian Covid Recovery Plan for 2020-2021” focussed so heavily on many of the items we champion here at Friends. THAT’s why this make our list at #7.

In fact, over the course of the pandemic we’ve written about most of the items included included in the business section of the Covid Recovery Plan. Such as Duval Loop, parklets, moving business outdoors, and creating help for local businesses and marketing.

What Is The Covid Recovery Plan?

It is worth everyone’s time to review the easy-to-read and succinct 8-page plan and the accompanying Key West Recovers PowerPoint presentation that the Mayor and Commissioner’s received from the consultant, Elisa Levy at their October Commission meeting. If you have 30 minutes, it is well worth it to watch Elisa’s passionate presentation in this video (click on item 4).

Elisa Levy presenting to the City Commission.

Ms. Levy had recently been hired to do a long-term strategic plan for the City going out 3-5 years. But the Mayor thought we needed something more immediate to deal with the current crisis. Elisa described it as the strategic plan is building the house, and the Covid Recovery Plan is like the house is on fire. We don’t have the luxury of time and we need to move the needle forward now to help the community cope. This plan covers the most important items as ascertained by a broad group of the community.

The report states that “Key West Recovers has been built from the ground up in a matter of six weeks. It comes from community members, and is an excellent example of government/civil society participation. In total, the process involved more than 300 people, who volunteered approximately more than 200 hours of time.” The process took place in four major steps: 20 Zoom roundtables with 250 people from various community groups; 2. Surveys; 3. an 11-member blue ribbon task force; and 4. back to the community for feedback.

The Plan has 17 specific points, 10 aimed at business and 7 at humanitarian. Many of the points are already being addressed and many completed. In fact on the night they received the Plan the Commission voted on one of the 17 points and re-instituted the FREE fares for visitors on the Duval Loop. (See #9: “FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back!, December 22, 2020)

The Focus on Downtown and Business Recovery

These are a few of the points we thought worthy of mentioning from the Business section of the Recovery Plan:

“Plan Point #3. – Operation Storefront – An initiative supported by the Florida Keys Council of the Arts to fill empty storefronts on Duval St. The Arts Council will move their annual membership show into shops to entice locals to visit Old Town, and to make the street look beautiful.”

“Plan Point #4. Safe Events, Fairs and Festivals – Promote outdoor events, fairs and festivals by making it easy for businesses to submit applications. The City will assist as much as possible, and help with planning.”

“Plan Point #5. Promoting Outdoor Business – Assist restaurants and cafes with efforts to move outside by creating a Safety Protocol and application and by assisting them upon request.”

If you are going to waive outdoor cafe permit fees to encourage outdoor business, why aren’t we closing any blocks to cars?

In recent articles we talked about about this a lot so we were happy to see the City take action to support this. In the City’s Key West Recovers website, the Information for Business section discusses waiving all permit fees for Sidewalk Cafe Permits. THIS is a good thing. However, we aren’t sure if anyone has taken the City up on this offer and perhaps that’s because the City really hasn’t closed down any blocks of Duval or downtown to cars yet. It simply may be to uncomfortable to put tables and chairs outdoors next to parked cars and car traffic. If we want this to be successful we’ll need to close down some sections to car traffic.

We’ve outlined a few ways to do that over the last six months in these articles:

“Plan Point #7. Duval Loop – Cut the fees to encourage visitors to get around town to our businesses for free.”

Based upon the Item #7 recommendation from the report, on October 20, the City rescinded the $1 fare for visitors using the Duval Loop that was imposed on May 5 (see “Commission: No More Free Ride for You” article for details). So the report immediately did something positive. As you may recall we were vociferous proponents of a FREE fare on the Duval Loop (see “Keep Duval Loop FREE for Visitors” April 30, 2020.)

“Plan Point #9. Free Business Assistance – one-on-one consulting to business owners in KW.”

The City has made it possible for businesses to receive personalized consulting at no-charge from the Florida Small Business Development Center. This is another win.

“Plan Point #10. Communications Coordinator – This is the lynchpin of the Plan. There are currently many resources available for Covid, but no mechanism for sharing them with the community. The City will hire a Communications Coordinator to share resources, services and tools with the Community.”

We think hiring Nadene Grossman Orr of We’ve Got the Keys, who does such an amazing job with Fantasy Fest, to be the liaison with the business community to help with implementation, is a stroke of genius. She is already proving invaluable helping local businesses navigate the do’s and don’ts of Covid Recovery and the City Hall bureaucracy.

These Short-Term Fixes Point to a Need to Look at a Business Improvement District in the Long-Term

We applaud the way this plan identifies these issues and tackles them. But all of the issues covered by these points could be addressed by a downtown business improvement district or BID. If we are going to make this a sustained effort over the long haul, we are going to need to do more than these temporary and ad hoc measures. Instituting a BID would cement these as permanent solutions. Please read this in-depth article, “Does Duval Street/Downtown Need a Business Improvement District?“, June 4, 2020 for more.

Recovery Plan Gives Us Hope for the Future

We are lucky to have so many people who love our island, put their heads together and come up with a plan to help us move forward, together, as One Human Family. Everyone who participated, deserves a lot of thanks and credit. Especially the Mayor and the consultant, who didn’t charge for this phase of her time. I was lucky enough to interact with Elisa on one of the Zoom Round Tables and some private follow-up and she was incredible. If her and the community’s work on this is an example of what we’ll get with the upcoming Strategic Plan, then our little island is in very good hands. And THAT’s why this is in our Top 10 for 2020 coming in at #7.

Everyone should get behind this plan and help the City move it forward.

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#8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance (December 23, 2020)
#9: FREE Fare on Duval Loop for Visitors is Back! (December, 22, 2020)
#10: The Cow Key Bridge Carmageddon That Wasn’t (December, 21, 2020)

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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