Resort seeks permit for convention, museum facility

The five-member Islamorada Village Council next Thursday is expected to approve a plan to build a convention center with space for a museum honoring local historian Irving Eyster.

David Curry, the owner of the Islander Resort at mile marker 82, oceanside, applied to the village planning department for an amendment to a major conditional use to build a 10,909 square feet, two-story convention center and ballroom.

The proposed site is at the northwestern portion of the 22-acre property, about 20 feet from the Old Highway, according to Joseph Cearley, a planner for the village.

The village council will consider the museum resolution on Thursday May 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the Founders Park Community Center.

The project has the support of the village councilman, including Mayor Michael Reckwerdt, who has helped the Matecumbe Historical Trust in the approval process, said Henry Rosenthal, a board member of the trust.

Cearley said planning staff will recommend the council approves the project.

“There’s more than enough space,” he said.

The agreement requires the Islander to build a three-bedroom, 900-square feet workforce housing unit on the property, Cearley said.

Rosenthal said the museum, which will occupy 4,500 square feet of the second floor, will contain many artifacts owned by Eyster.

“His house and garage are jam packed,” Rosenthal said.

The Historical Trust is also receiving historical items from other people’s collections. Items so far include many artifacts from the Florida East Coast Railway and cannons from sunken ships found off the Keys.

The museum is also expected to have several interactive exhibits, including one that simulates hurricane conditions, Rosenthal said.

The interior, which Rosenthal said will cost at least $500,000, is being designed by Tampa interior designer Bruce Merenda.

“He’s a very capable guy who has done some fantastic work,” Rosenthal said. The project will be paid for with money donated to the trust, according to Rosenthal.

“We will raise that money,” assured Rosenthal.

The deal with the Islander was negotiated between Curry and Islamorada businessman George Hertel. Rosenthal said the Islander is charging the Historical Trust a “very accommodating” fee for letting it use the space for the museum, but he wouldn’t specify the amount. The museum will be operated by members of the Historical Trust.

The other 4,500 will be used by the Islander as a convention center and ballroom. The remaining space will be used for common areas and bathrooms.

Rosenthal called the museum a “win-win” for both the Islander and the Historical Trust. The museum gives the trust a chance to show off Upper Keys artifacts and to honor the aging Eyster. For the Islander, it gives the resort an added attraction for lure more tourists.

Rosenthal cited a Monroe County Tourist Development Council survey that found more than half of the visitors to the Keys enjoy going to museums and other places of historical significance.

There was concern earlier this year that the project might not be approved this year because the trust was competing with developers of a proposed Winn Dixie supermarket on Upper Matecumbe Key for precious building allocations. But that project is now in limbo after village planning staff in late March recommended council members reject it because the plan did not provide adequate parking to safely maneuver tractor trailer delivery trucks.

“This will get in before Winn Dixie does,” Cearley said.