Attempts to get a wally mart or similar big box store into the Keys continued this week when a couple of developers held a public meeting to discuss plans for a proposed shopping center on Rockland Key. Currently, on the proposed site, there is a garden shop, a tow yard, and a porn shop. The developers want to put in a ‘typical shopping center” with a big box store or two. So far, that big box store or two has remained nameless as they want to make sure all the zoning is zoned, and all the palms are greased accordingly, but it don’t take too much imagination to know who wally mart and Target are.
This project is flawed in so many ways and the developers attempts to justify the whole thing are mind numbingly mainstream and without any imagination. Let’s take a look shall we?
First, I don’t fault the developers for wanting to do something with the property. Nothing wrong with turning a profit. The land, if indeed it will be used as shopping or commercial, is a valuable piece of property. Making money by building something on it benefits the developers, the contractors, and of course the county government in the form of higher property taxes and lots of juicy profits from connecting to the utilities. Plus there is all that extra sales tax revenue to be had with from the billions of shoppers who I am sure will flock from lands far and wide to come and buy more crap at this new “typical shopping center”.
Their reasoning for building a “typical shopping center” on Rockland Key is that residents from Rockland to Sugarloaf have to drive all the way to Key West to do any shopping. Well, about that. The proposed “typical shopping center” is at mm 9. The “typical shopping centers” in Key West? MM 3. So people are having to drive an extras 6 miles to get to the “typical shopping centers”. Oh, the Hugh Manatee.
Then there are the limited choices. The “typical shopping centers” in Key West (not including the Old Town area) consist of a Kmart, a Sears, and a few smaller chain stores like Pier 1, Office Max, and a Radio Shack. The developers, who apparently have never heard of the internet, claim residents have to drive all the way to the mainland to do their holiday shopping and find more variety in the goods available.
And of course there are the high prices. Stores in Key West charge way more than the stores on the mainland. Why? Because it costs more to get the merchandise shipped down here. And does anybody really truly think that a shiny new store in a shiny new “typical shopping center”, with shiny new rents, is going to charge any less? Somebody has to pay that shiny rent, and it ain’t gonna be the shiny renters.
Let’s not forget the promise of jobs here either. Boy howdy there will be plenty of jobs with this project. Yeah, uh, let’s go polish that turd…
First off, let’s take the construction of the “typical shopping center”. Unless the Monroe County government grows a pair, all the contracting for this project will come from places not in the Keys. You can bet these developers are in tight with big contractors on the mainland who are all set to come down here with their own crews and get this thing built. And then take all the profits with them back to wherever they came from. Oh sure, some locals might get hired for some temp work or maybe get to build a curb or paint stripes on the parking lot. But all the big juicy profitable jobs will go to companies who have no vested interest in the Keys, the Keys environment, the Keys economy, nor the Keys culture. To them, it’s just another job. Go in, do the work, collect the money, and get out. Any contract to build needs to have a requirement that any qualifying Keys Contractor can at least bid on the work. Maybe even take it a step further and require a certain percentage of the construction be done by local companies located in the Keys. At least some of the that money would stay here.
And then there are the jobs with the tenants of the “typical shopping center”. Hundreds of low paying, poor benefit, mind numbing, go nowhere jobs…you know, like we already have down here. These jobs will pay minimum wage to $10 an hour with long days, a corporate mindset, and little or no chance for advancement. And working conditions that would make the slave traders at Foxconn in China blush. Any really good paying jobs, the managerial kind, will go to those who are already entrenched in the corporation who is coming down here. The only real payoff there is that these managers will come to the Keys not realizing the realities of the cost of living here, attempt to recreate their lifestyle from wherever they came from on the mainland, and fail, miserably.
As I said earlier, the entire project shows a complete lack of imagination, innovation, or foresight on the part of the developers. They are thinking in a very narrow old school box. I doubt if any of them actually live down here full time or have a grasp of what the Keys are all about. Instead, what we will wind up with is just another, “typical shopping center”. A huge monstrosity that sucks in energy and money, while returning nothing of real value. And I will bet your paycheck, cause I ain’t got one, that the first storm that comes through will rip this “typical shopping center” to shreds.
Make no mistakes here, this project will happen, unless some unforeseen environmental impact arises. For the real powers that be, the developers, the government of Monroe County, the contractors, the big box stores, there is too much money involved to ignore this. For the residents of the Keys, it’s just another place to throw your money away, and get nothing in return. Just another “typical shopping center”.
Oh, I’m sorry. You want alternatives?
How about a food co-op, where people and farmers could come down and sell their home grown crops and goods?
How about bringing in a few dozen shipping containers, setting them up and renting them out as store fronts. Make them environmentally friendly with solar and wind for power, and utilize compost toilets for waste. Even set them up as, GASP!, affordable housing units! They are cheap, plentiful, and hurricane proof.
How about a new park with actual native plants?
How about donating the land back to the county and returning it to it’s natural state?
How about banning all motorized vehicles on Key West, and turning that land into a parking lot, then bus everyone in and out?
“typical shopping center” my ass.