EX­PLORER

In the shadow of Key West, Stock Is­land emerges as a pre­mier des­ti­na­tion

Times of the Islands - - News - BY PA­TRI­CIA LETAKIS

Rein­vent­ing an Is­land

The last key be­fore you cross the bridge onto Key West is Stock Is­land. Not many vis­i­tors know that. And not many vis­i­tors even care. Well, at least it was that way un­til a few years ago. That was when de­vel­op­ers dis­cov­ered the is­land’s po­ten­tial as a wa­ter­front hide­away with beau­ti­ful ho­tels that could co­ex­ist with a re­vamped neigh­bor­hood de­signed for fam­i­lies and lo­cals. Fast for­ward and a new Stock Is­land is emerg­ing—giv­ing trav­el­ers to the Florida Keys yet an­other des­ti­na­tion to ex­plore.

Be­fore the am­bi­tious plans were even on the draw­ing board, how­ever, Stock Is­land was home to one of the big­ger fish­eries in the Florida Keys. At Safe Har­bour Ma­rina, shrimpers and fish­er­men made a liv­ing on the wa­ter bring­ing in their haul of Key West pink shrimp, spiny lob­ster, yel­low­tail snap­per and grouper. At the bustling work­ing dock, weath­er­worn shrimpers could be spot­ted mend­ing their nets, and wooden lob­ster traps were stacked all around.

But Stock Is­land also had a darker side, as Cap­tain Ash­ley O’Neil re­calls as she nav­i­gates the Free Spirit sail­boat filled with va­ca­tion­ers out of Stock Is­land Ma­rina for a sun­set cruise. “Stock Is­land used to be to­tal ghetto—drug deal­ing, shrimp-boat trash. The shrimp-boat guys wanted hook­ers and drugs. You didn’t re­ally come to Stock Is­land,” ex­plains O’Neil, who has lived in Key West for 22 years.

Con­tin­u­ing, she ex­plains that when Hog­fish Bar & Grill opened in 2008 at Safe Har­bour, Stock Is­land started to change. It caught the at­ten­tion of de­vel­op­ers and en­trepreneurs. Hur­ri­cane Wilma in Oc­to­ber 2005 also con­trib­uted to the slow transformation by de­stroy­ing a lot of the trail­ers that oc­cu­pied the is­land. Those res­i­dents just up and left when their trail­ers were de­stroyed. Then in 2017, $7.9 mil­lion was pumped into cre­at­ing a state-of-the-art recre­ational fa­cil­ity at Bern­stein Park, with base­ball and soc­cer fields for the neigh­bor­hood kids.

Sail­ing along­side the is­land, you can see rusty rem­nants of a work­ing boat­yard that con­trast with the sparkling leisure craft and high-tech fish­ing ves­sels that dock at Stock Is­land Ma­rina to­day. Disem­bark­ing at the ma­rina, you are just steps from the Perry Ho­tel Key West.

The new­est bou­tique prop­erty on Stock Is­land, the Perry is playing a ma­jor role in set­ting the course for Stock Is­land’s tourism fu­ture. Em­brac­ing the area’s fish­ing and mar­itime his­tory, the ho­tel (named for Com­modore Perry of the U.S. Navy) has an edgy in­dus­trial de­sign that brings an el­e­ment of “cool” to the des­ti­na­tion. Wood, brick and metal blend into a mod­ern decor, and a boat-pro­peller mo­tif shows up in ceil­ing fans and hid­den in ab­stract paint­ings in gue­strooms.

In­te­rior de­signer Blaire Weiser with Den­ver’s Johnson Nathan Strohe firm fo­cused on ev­ery de­tail. Case in point: she searched through vintage pho­tos of Ernest Hem­ing­way to find rarely seen images of the writer point­ing a ri­fle at the cam­era. Hang­ing them in the lounge and pool­side bath­room, the pho­tos dis­play Papa’s ad­ven­tur­ous spirit that has al­ways de­fined life in the Keys.

Clock­wise from top: The pool at the Perry Ho­tel, the new­est prop­erty on Stock Is­land, over­looks the wa­ter­front; fish­ing and dive boats of­fer ex­cur­sions from the Stock Is­land Ma­rina, ad­ja­cent to the ho­tel; the mod­ern, in­dus­trial de­sign of the ho­tel’s lobby; Key West pinks are on the menu at Matt’s Stock Is­land Kitchen & Bar.

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