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.