Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Neighborhoods: Bahama Village

Bahama Village is the historic black neighborhood of Old Town. Located between Duval St. and Fort Street, from Angela St. to Louisa St. Primarily residential. It backs up to the Truman waterfront property just acquired from the Navy, and to Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park.

Its central street, Petronia, is developed commercially from Duval St. to Emma St. Petronia, however, is very much a mixed residential/commercial street. It was once a plan for Petronia Street to become a gateway to the newly-acquired Navy property. It might still be. The city hasn't got a definite plan for that valuable piece of land as yet, though it seems to be the community intention for it to be some sort of park, or at least to include a park. There's also been some talk of putting some residential units -- senior housing or an assisted living center. I doubt that'll happen, but you never know in Key West. This whole waterfront thing is likely to be talked to death and wind up as a fiasco. But you never know in Key West.

There will continue to be a Navy presence within the waterfront. They retained 12 of the 45 acres originally planned for transfer. There's also a 'secret' base there, down by Southernmost Point, belonging to the Joint Interagency Task Force that monitors the Florida Straits and beyond for drug movements and illegal immigration.

We lived in Bahama Village, at the corner of Truman Avenue and Thomas Street, in a small-ish apartment with a cathedral ceiling over a combined living/dining area. There was a loft of sorts built over the dining area that became my computer room/office. We had a compact kitchen with enough space for one to work comfortably, or two with a little bumping. Two small, windowless bedrooms served as our bedroom and as a combined storage room and guest room, We had one big folding-door closet, enough for our clothing and some storage.

The best part of it all, though, was the narrow patio space just out the French doors that we left open most of the time. The patio is about seven feet wide and runs the length of the apartment. We kept a round faux-wicker table out there with two chairs. There were banana trees and other tropical plants growing next door, higher than the 7 foot fence that separated us from them. Janet had the patio decorated and a garden cleaned out and growing in short order.

We paid $1200 a month rent (from November 1999 through April 2002), which included hot water, cable TV and trash collection. We paid our own electric and, of course, telephone. Undoubtedly, the rent has gone up since we left. It took about $3200 in cash to move in -- first and last months rent, plus an $800 security deposit. John and David, our landlords, renovated our apartment as a first step in rehabbing the big building at that location. When finished, they planned to have a total of five apartments, including their own, in the building. It was a good place to live.

Bahama Village has a reputation for being the location of more crime than other parts of the city. Without a doubt, there was a higher incidence of street-trafficking of drugs in Bahama Village. We saw it ourselves, pretty open. The police department, at the urging of some residents of the Village, have stepped up enforcement and are making progress by removing some dealers from the streets. They are probably driving others more underground or to other neighborhoods. I saw a brief item in the paper the other day that suggests there may be an increase of street dealing in the area around the old Harris School on Southard (or is it Fleming?) Street.

Our home was burgled once while we lived there. Someone came over the fence and grabbed a digital camera belonging to our son-in-law, as he, our daughter, and two grandchildren slept. The thief had to have stepped among the two kids sleeping on the floor in the living room to get the camera, and even Maggie, our trusty alert dog, never barked. At any rate, we were much more careful about leaving doors open after that, so sad to say.

Some of the advantages of living in the Village:

You can walk to just about anywhere in Old Town in 20 minutes or less. On my bicycle, I could be almost anywhere on the island in 30 minutes. We had car, but didn't use it as often as we do here.

The city buses make several stops in the Village, so getting to New Town isn?t much of a hassle either. You do have to plan ahead, since the buses don't run that frequently.

We were just two blocks from Blue Heaven, a good place to eat any time of day.

We were two blocks from the city pool, a good place to swim and sun. I wish we had used it more than we did.

We never felt unsafe (despite the burglary). We did practice common-sense caution, but we do that wherever we are and wherever we go.

There was and, I suppose, there continues to be some gentrification going on in Bahama Village, as there is everywhere. Its a truism that land always moves toward its highest and best (economic) use. And that, of course, is what's behind the high rents and high property values. There's a high demand for a limited supply, so the irresistable law of supply and demand takes over.

Anyway, there's more that could be said about all of this. Maybe I'll get around to it again after looking at some of the other neighborhoods.

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