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Mallory Square

Mallory Square | Let’s mix and match the design options

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


In case you missed it over the holidays, the latest proposals for re-doing Key West’s Mallory Square are posted online. And, unlike what could have been “looks like South Beach” or some generic New England downtown street mall except with a palm tree, these two approaches are pure Key West.

I love it when a plan comes together.

In October, Sasaki, the city’s consulting firm, posted the first community-wide survey and asked for public input to shape the design. They would use that information to prepare two approaches to the re-doing of Mallory Square. Sasaki would next combine the best options from each into a final master plan for Mallory Square.

Shortly before Christmas, the two drawings dropped along with another online feedback survey. You’ve got a short window to complete the survey, so I’d suggest doing it now if you want your voice heard.

(Aside: Ignore the titles of the two drawings: Limestone Jungle and Cultural Canvas. Neither feels accurate and trying to suss out their hidden meanings is fruitless. I guess they had to call them something.)

Anyway, back to my point: Although the final plan will be a combination of these two concepts, I’d be happy if we flipped a coin and just picked one. Yeah. They really are that good. Imagine: Steps down to the water with room to play.

Key West Island News
Love the access via steps to the water.
Key West Island News
The gentle pathways and mangrove restoration are great.

Mallory Square | We asked — and we got it!

Here’s what I hoped would happen when I completed the first community survey last fall — and what you’ll find in the two proposed plans:

  • I don’t want to see significant incursions on today’s open space, but a passive park is boring and won’t get me back to the square very often. In the plan: Paths slide through tree canopies with plenty of places to sit, relax, play games and get close and personal with the water. There’s also a water feature for cooling and playing.
  • I certainly don’t want a bunch more souvenir shops or national chains. I’m good with local artists and locally-owned businesses. In the plan: Flexible areas for artists, musicians and the sunset celebration. No retail.
  • Not sure how I feel about a ring of food trucks, though food and snacks other than Pepe’s would be a plus to encourage return visits to just sit and enjoy the open water. In the plan: room for a food court to the corners, but no sprawling. Nice compromise.
  • I’m OK with getting rid of all the parking and making the entire district accessible and pedestrian friendly. In the plan: parking mostly gone. Yay! A few spots left and well landscaped to hide.
  • Fishing from the pier sounds heavenly — until I remember someone’s going to set up shop to rent poles and bait. Don’t want vendors for chairs either. Bring your own or not at all. In the plan: not in the plan.
  • Fixing all the streets around and into the Mallory Square district would be welcome. Getting rid of all motorized and electric vehicles would be perfect. In the plan: Definitely integrates the whole area; lots of new tree canopy and walking areas. One plan moves the sculpture garden to the square and gets rid of that black fence. Yay.
  • I’m good with permanent shade structures as long as we add more green growing stuff. I don’t think a bunch of shade trees is the answer. In the plan: Shade structures are there, but the Limestone Jungle’s looks more natural. Cultural Canvas has great curved pathways and its seating has gentle lines. There’s a lot of Brutalist blocks and hard line spaces in the Jungle. There’s even a mangrove restoration project.
  • I do not want the square to mimic Chicago’s Navy Pier or the harbor area in Baltimore. Please no Ferris wheels and such. In the plan: Nothing of the sort.
  • Keep the actual Sunset Celebration old-fashioned funky like it’s always been. Local performers, artist and vendors, please. In the plan: Yes, it’s in the plan.

And, thanks to the Old Island Restoration Fund, Dr. Cory Malcolm and a 1961 letter found in the archives, there need be no battle over renaming Mallory Square. We know definitively now that Mallory Square was named after the Clyde-Mallory Steamship Line out of Mystic, Connecticut — and not after the infamous Confederate collaborator Stephen Mallory. Good news, indeed.

Learn more about the plans and take the survey | Click/Tap here.

1 Comment

  1. Louis Raymond

    So glad I responded to the survey. Indeed, these are both terrific plans, full of details that would actually get me—a committed resident—to go to Mallory Sq. again. What great changes are in the works here!

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