While Key West is ‘closed’ for coronavirus, the city will repave Duval Street

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Gwen Filosa
·3 min read
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The Florida Keys are closed for business because of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are no open hotels or short-term vacation rentals. Some beaches and parks are closed.

And now, the county has decided no non-residents may enter U.S. 1 without proof of employment or property ownership.

So during this unprecedented break, the city of Key West decided to spruce up the island.

For starters, city crews started repaving famous Duval Street, the tourist mecca that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, on Wednesday.

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“Believe, we’re going to get through this and we’re going to get through this as a stronger community,” Mayor Teri Johnston said, in a prepared video statement delivered via her public Facebook page.

Workers are hurting, left unemployed, and need financial help from the federal government, she said, adding that she had called the elected leaders who represent the Keys about the issues.

“Help is on the way,” she said.

But in the meantime, she said, the city is going to focus on island improvements.

“We are going to use this unprecedented opportunity to paint the streetlights, to clean the gum off of the sidewalks, to paint the curb, to replant the trees that are dead and missing,” Johnston said.

The Duval makeover is scheduled for completion in July, said city spokeswoman Alyson Crean.

“But that’s curbs, ramps, all of that stuff,” Crean said.

The Duval project was already in the works but slated for the slow season, not late March, Crean said.

“It was in the plans, but moved up because of the circumstances,” she said.

City workers on Wednesday put a fresh coat of paint on the sidewalk at the Southernmost Point Buoy, which had been barricaded off and covered with a huge blue tarp to ward off groups of 10 or more.

But the buoy was freed from fencing on Wednesday and its makeshift cover. It was blocked off before tourists were shut out of the Keys, city staff said.

People were taking selfies and videos of the giant blue buoy.

“We believe that the attraction is not bringing residents together in groups,” said City Manager Greg Veliz. “Actually, it seemed as though the attraction was the covered buoy.”

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The city will also repave 20th Street in the New Town neighborhood and is already working on repaving Simonton Street in Old Town.

Several Duval Street businesses posted personalized closed signs, like this one outside Rick’s Bar.
Several Duval Street businesses posted personalized closed signs, like this one outside Rick’s Bar.

Also, the median along Flagler Avenue, a main artery that runs parallel to North Roosevelt Boulevard and heads toward the city’s entrance, will be replanted.

Key West has had more than 1.2 million visitors since November., Johnston said in an interview Monday on U.S. 1 Radio, 104.1 FM, which the city posted on Facebook Wednesday.

“It may seem we’ve taken a little bit stronger measures and a little bit quicker than maybe the rest of the county or the state,” Johnston said. “It’s because we’ve got more people visiting.”

That’s why the city ordered restaurants to close on-premises dining and only do takeout and delivery before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued his orders, she said.

Johnston also ordered all nonessential businesses at 5 p.m. Monday, the day after the county ordered all Keys hotels to close.

Johnston said Key West is “an urban hub here in the county and in the state,” unlike the rest of the Keys.

Key West’s Southernmost Point buoy stood free of barricades and with a fresh coat of paint on the sidewalk on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.
Key West’s Southernmost Point buoy stood free of barricades and with a fresh coat of paint on the sidewalk on Wednesday, March 25, 2020.

The city shut down Smathers Beach while the county is keeping its open — like Higgs Beach in Key West — as long as people don’t gather in groups of 10 or more, as the White House guidelines state.

But Smathers is historically a spring break gathering spot, Johnston said.

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