Key Biscayne, Florida – A touch of paradise

January 10, 2022

Key Biscayne, Florida

A touch of paradise

 

Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Key Biscayne, Florida for our focus on Economic Development & Growth in U.S. Cities

Key Biscayne, Florida truly is an “island paradise.” Like the village’s frequent nickname suggests, Key Biscayne is a utopia of sandy beaches, stunning ocean views, and lush natural reserves, all while providing the modern services and amenities to meet its residents’ many needs. The village fluctuates between 14,000 and 17,000 residents due to many people visiting for vacation, though the demographic is steadily changing to welcome more permanent and diverse families and residents to the area.

“The term ‘Island Paradise’ seems like a cliché, but it’s pretty much what everyone calls the Key because it really is just that,” says Tatyana Chiocchetti, Director of the Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce. “We have everything you could possibly want: Doctors, schools, over 50 restaurants, boutiques, beaches and parks, and a wonderful variety of outdoor fitness options. It’s an all-encompassing small village next to a large metropolitan city.” Village Manager Steve Williamson adds, “We have the original Key Biscayners who are the folks that grew up here and we’ve had a number of local groups move here over time. More recently, we have seen an increased number of people from across the U.S, Europe and South America come to the Village. They, and we, are just thriving as a result.”

The diverse culture has lent itself to the village’s culinary offerings, with dozens of restaurants on the island offering an array of multicultural cuisines. “Nobody can believe we have so many restaurants in such a small space, but there are a lot of people to feed. We definitely have a variety from, Greek to empanadas to Indian and pretty much anything you could possibly want,” Chiocchetti says. “And then there are the eateries on the water, where you can enjoy beautiful sunsets and fresh fish.”

Courtesy of Kiko Ricote

The vibrant island community of Key Biscayne is located 20 minutes east of Miami, just over the Rickenbacker Causeway. According to Dr. Roland Samimy, Key Biscayne’s Chief Resilience and Sustainability Officer, “It’s a really nice mix of feelings – like you live in a small town, while at the same time being part of a major metropolitan area. Even though you’re in this urbanized context, you’re still very much a part of the environment and connected to nature. We aren’t a sleepy little island in the middle of nowhere. The village has many facets to it and the people care about the community and are truly engaged in making it as good as it can be.”

Key Biscayne rests on 1.25 square miles of land and is bordered by Crandon Park, a Miami-Dade County park, to the north, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Biscayne Bay on the west. Improvements are constantly on the go to help make the community a stronger, safer, and more resilient place. The village recently passed a new budget that will focus on five key areas: providing a safe and secure village; fostering a thriving mix of retail, dining, and commercial district; offering engaging and active public-places and programs; providing accessible transportation; and building resilient and sustainable infrastructure.

Key Biscayne is working closely with several engineering firms, including a valuable partnership with AECOM, to provide major infrastructure upgrades to the village over the next decade and a half. The upgrades will consist of four main pillars: Shoreline protection, flood mitigation, infrastructure hardening, and roadway improvements. Samimy reports, “We have identified several different lines of effort that we feel we need to advance over the next 10 to 15 years in order to maximize the resiliency of the community in the face of climate change, sea-level rise, and changing environmental conditions.”

Dealing with infrastructure is our main order of business, specifically upgrading the island-wide stormwater system. “On top of that, because of sea-level rise and because the system itself is a gravity-driven system combined with the island being very flat, low-lying roadway inundation has become an increasing challenge,” Samimy explains. “So, as a result, we have begun to reconfigure the whole system  to deal with the flooding challenges that are not trivial at this instance and in time will only become worse if not improved.”

With the help of a number of partners, Key Biscayne will transform its stormwater system from a gravity-driven system to a pump-driven system. These improvements all have a tumbledown effect, leading to the need for even more infrastructure upgrades. Samimy acknowledges, “There is a whole host of questions. What do you do with the roadways in order to complement the stormwater system? Do you keep them the same or elevate them a little bit in certain areas? Then, what do you do with the hardening of the electrical and telecommunications infrastructure?”

The village administration also has to address shoreline protection, looking at safeguarding the village from both the ocean and bay sides. On the ocean side, they have a natural beach system that needs reinforcement and on the bay side they have 6.9 miles of privately owned seawalls, many of which need to be improved and raised.

“That’s also connected to the stormwater system because the outfalls have to be enlarged, and if you enlarge the outfalls, then you have to redo the seawalls,” says Samimy. “Everything is essentially interconnected by the challenges we face as a barrier island affected by water on all sides – from the bottom groundwater, from the top rainwater, from the ocean, and from the bay. We are under chronic conditions like king tides and spring tides, but also acute conditions like what happens during a major storm event like a hurricane. So we are faced with a whole island of infrastructure upgrades over the next 15 years, specifically to maintain the quality of life, maintain safety, maintain a vibrant economy, maintain our businesses and our tourism – and that’s where we are right now.”

As far as adding new programs and services, the village is already moving forward with the construction of a new $11-million library, which Williamson states “is going to give us a place to make our community even more connected.” They are also building  a new outdoor community space in the village’s downtown core that should be complete within the next eight months. Called “Paradise Park”, the open space will feature enhanced street and landscaping, space for concerts and events, and areas for locals to sit back and relax. “We are going to be able to have many events and new programs,” Williamson adds. “This is going to make the downtown really special.”

Courtesy of Key Biscayne Chamber of Commerce

To help keep the streets safe, Key Biscayne has recently hired a new police chief, Frank Sousa. Sousa was hired based on the needs identified for the community though a citizen survey that went out to residents. “The top things that our folks were talking about were traffic safety, crime prevention, and importantly, police presence,” Williamson says. “I used that as a guide for our police search and I looked for a police chief who had that ethos, those values, that ability to not just get himself out into the community, but to get all the police officers engaged in our village.”

To help encourage people to leave their cars at home and provide accessible modes of transportation, the village has developed ‘Freebee on the Key’. The on-demand, electrified ride service provides free transit to residents in one of its five cars. “You can essentially call Freebee, they will come pick you up and take you to wherever you want to go within the village and the state and county beach parks,” Samimy explains. “If you want to go to the beach, just hit ‘take me to the beach’ on their app and they will pick you up and take you there.”

The village is working to add to its fleet of vehicles, as demand is high. They currently provide around 7,500 rides per month to the community. “We are in the process of evolving the Freebee and also encouraging people to use their golf carts, their bikes, their scooters, and their feet to walk in order to both alleviate traffic and become more fit,” says Samimy. “When people are out and about and moving at that pace, it brings the community together. They see each other, they know each other, and they engage with each other and that’s something you don’t have when you’re in a car.”

Looking to the future Key Biscayne plans to keep on improving with the times, while maintaining their tight-knit feel. “We want to continue with our sense of community and lifestyle we have here,” Chioccetti shares. “We have every kind of sport activity, we have a beautiful golf course, we have the tennis center, we have a beautiful yacht club. We want to maintain what we have and know we are blessed and just accentuate the positive.”

AT A GLANCE

Key Biscayne, Florida

What: A unique and popular village island of 17,000

Where: 5 miles and 20 minutes east of Miami, FL

Website: www.keybiscayne.fl.gov

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