Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Deputy Director's "Citizen Column" #1

From today's Sunday Key West Citizen...

Bahama Village — discovering a familiar character and sweetness

Citizen Editor’s note: The Citizen today welcomes Wheeler Winstead to this page. Winstead is deputy director of the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust. He has three decades of experience in community development, and is former director of the Faith-Based Community Economic Development Program of the National Congress of Community Economic Development. He holds a Master of Business Administration from the University of Pittsburgh. His column will run every other Sunday.

I saw trees very different from my home town of Pittsburgh or my recent home of Washington, D.C. I also saw housing projects just like the ones I came from with people sitting outside. I saw a familiar site: an older woman with a young girl sitting in her lap with a frown on her face as the older woman pulled on the young girl’s hair while she talks to another woman sitting next to her and barely acknowledging her wincing victim. There was a character, a sweetness and familiarity that I felt in these streets similar to what I remember feeling in the “jects” where I grew up or my grandfather’s North Carolina farm community.

I saw older men and women old enough to be my grandparents riding bicycles. Not the slick 12- or 18-gear bicycles that the hip D.C. young people rode, but singlespeed, plain ordinary bicycles. And people nodded their head to acknowledge my presence, or spoke to me as if they knew me. That was it. I was not going to buy a car first, but a bicycle just like the first one my dad bought me when I was about 4 or 5.

Then I came down Petronia Street. I saw the arch announcing the entrance into Bahama Village, and then down to the corner of Petronia and Thomas. Now that is one interesting corner. There’s a wall painted by an artist, the conch shop across from Blue Heaven , the Lemonade Stand Art Studio, and then you have … Johnson’s Store. Now this is where I’ve been trying to take you.

So Johnson’s Store is painted all blue with No Loitering signs all around. And the door is not a door but heavy strips of plastic, the same kind you find in front of a freezer. So what do you think I saw on the inside? (I know you won’t believe me, so go inside like I did.) I entered the hallowed opening for the first time and am so shocked I have to stop. You know what I was expecting. I was expecting to see what I have seen many times in urban black neighborhoods. If you haven’t been in one, ask a friend who has.

First, the floors were spotless. The shelves were full, clean, meticulously arranged with all the products pulled to the front. Every product was in its place, all sodas, water and household items. Even the candy was carefully and meticulously arranged. There was no bullet-proof glass cage protecting the owner from the potential thief-robberlowlife-heathen-shoppers.

Today when I went in, there was Mr. Johnson ironing some shirts and his daughter waiting on their clients. Yesterday, Mr. Johnson was reading the Bible. So I inquired if Mr. Johnson was ready to iron my shirt. He promptly responded that I would have to get in line. Now I believed him because on a wall behind him were several shirts already ironed, and he didn’t look like he was planning on stopping anytime soon. This was especially true since he had his well trained, well mannered, all business-like daughter handling the customers like a seasoned veteran. I had been trying to convince Mr. Johnson to get involved with my community development work, but he says that he is too busy with church and family. But he said he would think about it. Actually he said he would pray about it. I believed he will.

So here we are, in one of the oases of Bahama Village. I feel that way not because of what I saw, but because of what I expected to see. Everything around me triggered images that were contrary to the reality inside Mr. Johnson’s store. They triggered prejudices, fears and negativity that set up a scenario that was just the opposite of the reality inside. I was surprised at some of things that I had to confront in myself. I prided myself on being a forward thinking, progressive kind of person; one who could see the potential greatness in most any thing, person or situation. But by confronting these things it freed me to see even greater possibilities. So why don’t you take this trip and tell me what you see — but before you do let me tell you what I now see when I walk down Petronia street. I see...

Wheeler Winstead is a community development specialist and deputy director of the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How does a "Land Trust" work?

We hear comments from time to time that show that plenty of people just aren't familiar with what a "Land Trust" is. Once they find out, they see how important organizations like the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust is to the well-being of a commnity.

There are places, like Hawaii's island of Oahu, that have been using them for a long time. But here in Florida, the BCCLT was actually the first Community Land Trust.

To find out more about how they work, check out this article on the ROOFLINES blog:

What Foreclosure Crisis? Community
Land Trusts Offer Secure Homeownership

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Letter to the Editor (KW Citizen)

Today's Citizen newspaper ran a letter by Sloan Bashinsky, which can also be found on one of his own blogs. It's reproduced here for your convenience....
BCCLT a good model
for local governments

[A July 8] Key West Citizen
editorial was about Conch
Community Land Trust
(BCCLT). If you did not get to
read this excellent editorial,
you can do so by going to bcclt.
I have met Norma Jean
Sawyer and other dedicated
BCCLT members. They are
fighting tooth-and-nail to
restore Bahama Village inch
by inch, and wish to extend
that vision and progress to the
Navy land allocated to Bahama
Village in the larger conveyance
from the Navy to the city
of Key West.
I have written before that
Key West should use BCCLT’s
vision and progress as a model
for the entire city, and today I
extend that recommendation
to Monroe County. The way
to start doing that is to meet
with Norma Jean Sawyer and
other BCCLT members. Go to
BCCLT meetings. Look at their
plans. View some of what they
have already accomplished in
Bahama Village.
After doing that, you might
wonder, as I did, why it has
been such hard going for
BCCLT with the Key West City
Commission, which often
seems to lean over backwards
to approve development and
redevelopment projects that do
not seem to have any concern
for Key West, but only seem to
have concern for fattening the
pocketbooks of developers and
You might also wonder about
what I once was told by a black
Bahama Village native I know
pretty well. Bahama Village
blacks are not Conchs. Only
white people born in Key West
are Conchs, he said. Say what?
He said it again. Native whites
do not view native blacks as
I have had native whites
dispute that, but my Bahama
Village friend’s words rung
true as well. Which leaves me
wondering if Bahama Conch
Community Land Trust would
have had smoother sailing if it
had left Conch out of its name.
Norma Jean Sawyer can be
reached at normajeansawyer@
Sloan Bashinsky
Key West

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Key West Citizen Editorial

In today's edition of the Key West Citizen, the following editorial was run.

Bahama Village should
benefit from waterfront

Key West Mayor
Morgan McPherson
recently came out
with harsh criticism of the
Bahama Conch Community
Land Trust and its plans to
develop a portion of the
Truman Waterfront. In place
of the BCCLT proposal,
McPherson offered the idea of
a water park on the Truman
Waterfront property.
As any nonprofit, the
BCCLT has at times struggled
financially. And as other nonprofits,
it has wrestled with
growing pains. The organization’s
matriarch, Norma Jean
Sawyer, should be commended
for her dedication to the
organization over the years.
It is important to note that,
rumor and innuendo aside,
the BCCLT has been audited
every year since its inception,
and each time it has
received a clean bill of health.
Additionally, the organization
has a new deputy executive
director, Wheeler Winstead.
Winstead brings with him a
master of business administration
and a background
in real estate development.
McPherson acknowledged
that hiring Winstead would
help carry the BCCLT to the
next level.
The BCCLT’s proposed
development received strong
support during the last
election — the referendum
passed overwhelmingly. The
proposal also is integral to
the conveyance agreement
between the Navy and the
city, as laid out in economic
conveyance documents. For
the sake of clarity, here are
objectives outlined in the
executive summary of the
• Enhancing the economic
health and long-term viability
of the city’s tourism-dependent
business base;
• Developing and protecting
a vibrant multiuse port
• Creating and retaining
high-quality employment
opportunities for Key West
citizens, and in particular for
residents of Bahama Village,
the city’s historic African-
American neighborhood
located adjacent to the site;
• Preserving and enhancing
the economic foundation of
Bahama Village;
• Providing needed affordable
commercial sites for
resident entrepreneurs and
existing businesses in order
to allow them to compete for


a share of Key West’s increasingly
competitive retail/service
trade; and
• Expanding economic
opportunities and training
for Key West’s homeless and
needy residents to help break
the cycle of poverty.
As these goals clearly show,
it was the intent of both
the Navy and the city for a
large part of the transferred
property to directly benefit
Bahama Village, its residents
and others in our community
who are struggling.
In thinking about water
parks in general, we question
the mayor’s rationale, and
are curious to see the results
of the study he says is being
conducted to gauge the merits
of such an attraction in Key
West. A brief Internet search
shows the top 10 water parks
in America are in landlocked
cities, with very few water
parks located on the coast.
We also question the simple
matter of having enough land
to support a successful water
park. Most major water parks
cover upward of 50 acres
— Key West has a fraction of
that available. There is also
the question of water supply
and use. Water parks have
enormous water demands,
and with the city facing permanent
water restrictions, we
must ask if this is the best use
of resources.
Some residents have sug
gested — in jest — that the
mayor’s water park concept
be merged with an idea
fielded awhile back by County
Commission candidate
Sloan Bashinsky — a clothing-
optional pirate-themed
park on Wisteria Island. If the
city built a nude water park
on Wisteria Island, it surely
would have the only one of
its kind and easily attract
national attention and a
niche market.
Seriously, though, it’s time
to make some progress on the
Truman Waterfront property
and follow the plans that have
been in place for many years
now — plans that were established
through years of study
and negotiation, and that
have been publicly vetted.
We urge the city to assist the
BCCLT in moving its project
forward so the entire community
can all reap the benefits
for years to come.

— The Citizen

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Art & Music Festival

Saturday, July 5th, the First Annual Bahama Village SUMMER Art & Music Festival will take place on Higgs Beach! It will last from 10:30 am to SUNSET on the beach between the White Street Pier and the Martello.

Local Musicians performing will be Junkanoos, Caffeine Carl and the Buzz featuring Pauly Walterson of The Bubba System, Caribe, and the Key West Caribbean All-Stars.

There will be local artists along with local authors under the big tent. Beverages are provided by Pepsi.

This is a family event on the beach celebrating our nation’s independence, our community’s local color and talent while supporting your local Land Trust.

This is a benefit for the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust.

This event is sponsored by:

  • Tender Loving Care Gardens
  • Marine Bank
  • Virgilio’s
  • Coco Palms Jamaican Me Hungry
  • Pepsi
  • Manley DeBoer
  • Coral City Elks
  • William Weech Post 168 American Legion
  • Castillo and Thurston Key West Mortuary
  • David Service Landscaping

For more information or to participate and display, please call 294-0884 or email