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Old Power Plant In Key West Gets New Mission As A Museum and Microbrewery

Key West's old diesel plant is now set to become an interactive museum.
David Salay
Bender & Associates Architects
Key West's old diesel plant is now set to become an interactive museum.

The Key West Art and Historical Society already maintains some of the island's most important historic buildings, like the lighthouse and the Custom House. And now the group is taking on another.

The old power plant in Old Town Key West isn't much to look at right now. A couple brick and concrete buildings that have been neglected for decades.

But there's a new future in store for the old diesel plant.

That future will include "an interactive museum, a restaurant, microbrewery, a visual gallery and also that room will be used as a mixed use conference room for the community, our programming and everyone else," said Michael Gieda, executive director of the Art & Historical Society.

The city of Key West just decided to give the society a 20-year-lease on the property. The museum got involved after the city's building official recommended demolishing some of the structures.

Gieda says the new museum will focus on the historic industries of the island - before tourism.

"Wrecking, cigar manufacturing will definitely be part of it. Obviously, we'll be focusing on the history of the diesel plant and the generators that are housed within because they are quite historic and unique," he said. "But we'll also be tying in things like Flagler's railroad."

The buildings date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Gieda said.

"Key West was electrified before most of the country was," he said. "It came on line, shortly thereafter Thomas Edison was doing what he was doing in New York City."

The Florida Keys rarely generate electricity these days. Most of the power comes from the mainland, though Keys Energy Services does have a diesel plant on Stock Island that can generate power during times of extremely high demand, or if the connection to the mainland is down for maintenance or because of storm damage.

A report on the building's current condition estimated it would cost $3.7 million to stabilize the structures. Gieda said creating the museum and other uses for the property could cost a total of $10 million.

The building is located in the historically black neighborhood of Key West now known as Bahama Village. Gieda said incorporating the history of the area will also be part of the interactive museum and exhibits at the site.

Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.
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