Oh Islamorada, I hardly knew thee..
by John V. Gallant
And now I’m a homeowner. Was it your fishing, or your diving that attracted me? Your almost non-existent beaches, or was it that Islamorada was about as far away as I could get from a Wal-Mart?
From my perspective, I think it was the people and the community that made me do it. If you are new to the upper keys, or Islamorada (which from what I surmise is having moved here less than 35 years ago) I would love to hear what brought you here, and what made you stay, so if you have a minute to share, you can drop us an email or post it to our Facebook page.
For those of you that don’t know, and the even fewer who have wondered why, my company is called Blue 9 Realty because Blue #9 was the tag affixed to a crocodile in Lower Matecumbe. This crocodile was shot and killed by someone who believed that their vision of The Keys was more important than what The Florida Keys actually are, claiming that these animals are “invading” their happy place. I had the unfortunate experience of recovering the carcass, assisting with the autopsy, and disposing of the remains.
Unless you are a Young Earth Creationist, popular scientific opinion pegs crocodiles at around 300 Million years old (If you are, you are welcome to pretend that it was only 6,000 years ago, my point is still valid) With stories of the Native Americans hunting them in The Florida Keys for food, they most certainly pre-date anyone living here now, with running water and electricity. The point? They were most certainly here first.
While I can understand that people can be irrational, and nature can be scary (I’ve always been a little scared of Bull Sharks), there are people who appreciate these things, and pay to come here to see them.
With the influx of visitors, some of whom turn into permanent residents, there will always be a percentage who have misconceptions about The Keys. Take note visitors, if you are planning on moving here, take some time to get to know us. It’s fun on vacation, and there’s no shortage of diving, fishing, and drinking; but this place is not for everyone, and remember these things you don’t like, they are not necessarily things that need to be fixed.
There is good development, and bad development. We used to have a bowling alley, but it lost out to Publix; much like that great Mahogany Tree lost out to the Dunkin Donuts drive thru in The Tavernier Town Center. Did we need another Dunkin Donuts drive thru? Most likely not, but I can understand if others felt it was very important to have fresh sugary baked goods available, without the inconvenience of having to get out of your jalopy.
Then there is Casa Mar, which used to be a group of run-down buildings on the side of the road which, speaking truthfully, I had no idea what they contained before their renovations. Based on the Dive flag, I was pretty sure someone would take you out on a boat and let you get wet.. Post-renovation there is great office space, a paddleboard and watersports outfit, a fish market, etc. Plus, it looks really good. This was a great idea, and adds value to the community.
One of the best ideas I’ve seen for development and collaboration is the old “Taste of Italy” building at MM83. That pirate ship had a number of restaurants come and go, and one would assume that overhead was their demise. Along come Dave and Mike, two talented and astute business owners who figure out that there’s “enough room for the both of ‘em.” Now we are blessed with an OUTSTANDING restaurant, Bayside Gourmet; and oTHErside Boardsports, an adventurous company selling all things watersports. This was also a great idea, good development, and they collectively add value to the community.
I get it, things change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse; but change is inevitable. As a community, we need to work to make sure that the majority of change is constructive. My native land, Indian Rocks Beach, FL, has experienced an abundance of change. This change was one of the reasons I landed in Islamorada, it is about as close to my hometown as I could find after they paved it over, and overbuilt. Little mom and pop hotels changed into large corporate hotels. Neat concrete beach bungalows changed into 3 story stick framed houses. I would hate to have just purchased a home now, here in Islamorada, only to watch it walk that same path.
I do see a good bit of development coming here, and my hope is they will be gentle.
The Village of Islamorada has attempted to protect against unbridled overdevelopment, and although there are a few areas that I think could use improvement, they seem to have been fighting the good fight. But we, as residents, need to be the stewards for our environment and the driving force protecting our community from overdevelopment, overfishing, and bad tourism policies.
This place has changed at least a few times since I moved here 7 years ago. The Carlisle group has purchased many of the large chain hotels, Outback Steakhouse is gone, Micah is singing about The Keys to people in The Carolinas, and now there seems to be a jam night every day of the week. Makes me long for the not so long ago, and wonder how a musician in this town is going to make a buck.
But change is constant, and while there is good change, and bad change; the story is ours to write; and time will tell just how much we all cared. Sometimes we will lose, sometimes we will win. But it is important to respect this place we live, the other people who are here, and the environment that surrounds us. So if you would, take some time to reflect on why you are here, and contribute positively. It’s not about stifling change, or stopping development. In my mind it is about appreciating this place for what it is, and keeping to the code.