City showcases its maritime heritage with seaport

KEY WEST, Fla. -- A $30 million public-private sector effort to preserve the city's maritime heritage made its debut with the opening of the 8.5-acre Historic Seaport at Key West Bight.

The complex comprises some 100 land- and sea-based waterfront businesses, linked by the new, two-mile Harborwalk. The Harborwalk is located along the curve on the northern Gulf end of the island, has restaurants and funky bars, including the popular Schooner Wharf Bar, clothing stores, dive and bait shops, a wedding chapel, a gourmet grocery and the Key West Rowing Club head office.

The Conch Republic Seafood Co. opened in the former Singleton Fish House building. Once everything is completed, the 10,000-square-foot waterfront restaurant will encompass a fish market, botanical park and maritime education center.

"We're preserving the funky attitude, architecture and personality of old Key West," Rob O'Neill, director of the Historic Seaport, explained. "With its boats, restaurants and colorful characters, the Historic Seaport gives people the waterfront experience they expect to find on the island."

From Harborwalk, the view includes ships, schooners that make sunset cruises, commercial marine tenants, glass-bottom boats, fishing charters and live-aboard vessels.

Ever since its settlement in the early 1800s, Key West has been dependent upon the sea.

Its residents made fortunes salvaging vessels wrecked on the nearby reef, harvesting sponges, capturing sea turtles for their shells and meat and gathering shrimp known as "pink gold."

Four plazas overlooking the water have memorials citing people associated with local maritime activities.

Although the Bight is now open to the public, construction continues on several projects.

One is the restoration of the Turtle Cannery, with the reintroduction of live turtles into the pens adjacent to the Turtle Kraals restaurant and bar.

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