City Information
    2003 Annual Report

Regional Setting

Key West lies near the end of the chain of islands known as the Florida Keys, and is the southern-most city in the continental United States. The island-community is located about 90 miles north of Cuba and 150 miles southwest of Miami at a latitude of 24 degrees, 33 minutes, 5 seconds North and at a longitude of 81 degrees, 48 minutes, 14 seconds West. The island has an area of 4.2 square miles, while the City-incorporating the northern part of neighboring Stock Island-has an area of 5.79 square miles. The City initially developed because of its proximity to the Florida Straits, the abutting Florida Reef, strong offshore ocean currents (the Gulf Stream), and the area's unpredictable winds, combined with a large natural deep-water harbor and deep channels into the harbor. The Florida Straits are the northern-most sea passage from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. For three centuries this passage formed part of the great nautical trade route that carried ships from Caribbean and South American ports to their European homelands. The location of Key West serves as a gateway both to the Caribbean and between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico was recognized by the military at an early date. Another important regional factor in the development of the City has been its proximity to Cuba, 90 miles to the south.


Key West's long and colorful past begins with its European discovery in 1513 by Ponce de Leon. The island was first known as Cayo Hueso (Isle of Bones) because it was littered with remains from an Indian battlefield or burial ground. The name "Key West" is the English version of the Spanish term. The first permanent occupancy in the City occurred in 1822, complete with a small naval depot, whose purpose was to rid the area of pirates. The presence of the U.S. Navy has been a major factor in the growth and development of Key West ever since. The settlement was incorporated in 1828, four years after becoming the county seat of Monroe County. The City grew and prospered, based first on fishing and salvaging ships wrecked on the nearby reefs, and later on cigar manufacturing with Cuban refugees and imported Cuban tobacco. Other economic activities included sponging and related commercial functions. By 1890, Key West was the largest and richest city in Florida. However, after the turn of the century its major industries were in decline. Little construction was undertaken between the First and Second World Wars and the City saw a steady decline in population between 1919 and 1935.

World War II brought prosperity back to Key West. Population more than doubled between 1940 and 1960. Nation-wide military base closings and personnel reductions beginning in the 1960s were major contributors to the City's second major cycle of population decline. After recording the highest number of residents in its history in 1960, Key West experienced over a 25 percent loss in population by 1980. The 1990 Census showed a slight increase.

Tthere are large numbers of buildings in the community that are near or over a century old. The historical structures of Key West are not grand public facilities, as churches and government buildings, but are homes and cottages-still in private ownership-built by persons without formal architectural training. These historical buildings are found in a 190 block ( 919 acre) area in the western end of the City. Within the historical area are 2,580 structures containing the greatest cluster of wooden buildings in Florida and one of the largest concentrations in the U.S. Generally, the structures date from 1886 to 1912, but they represent the building tradition of Key West from 1838.

The city's historical area, known as "Old Town", has a very distinctive appearance, combining features of both New England and Bahamian building styles. The basic features which distinguish the local architecture includes wood frame construction of one to two-and-a-half story structures set on foundation piers about three feet above the ground. Exterior characteristics of the buildings are peaked "tin" roofs, horizontal wood siding, pastel shades of paint, side-hinged louvered shutters, covered porches (or balconies, galleries, or verandas) along the fronts of the structures, and wood lattice screens covering the area elevated by the piers. A small but striking characteristic is the wooden balustrade and other ornamental trim present around the porches. The neighborhoods in which these buildings are located have their own distinctive features. These include a grid street pattern, buildings set close to each other and to the street, a diverse mix of building sizes and heights, fences of wood picket or wrought iron or low masonry walls, and dozens of alleys or lanes, with their own cluster of dwellings, entering the local street system at irregular intervals.


The city’s economy is dependent upon the following major elements
  • Tourism
  • The presence of the US Military and related organizations
  • Federal State and local government
  • Real Estate sales and improvements.

Employment data from the 2000 census as depicted below indicates that 30% of the employment base is dedicated to the tourist industry. This is closely followed by 28% being devoted to the service and real estate industry and 19% devoted to the trade sector. Public employment and construction-manufacturing each employ 10% of the workforce.


The city hosts an estimated 18,630 tourist/visitors per day. During special tourist events such as Fantasy Fest, the population can approach an estimated total of 75,000. Key West contains 63 hotels/motels with 4,154 rooms, 127 guest houses with 949 rooms and 404 other transient lodging facilities with 510 rooms. There are 202 full service restaurants and 85 take out restaurants. From September, 2003 to October, 2004, a total of 462 cruiseships with 929,790 passengers called on Key West. For the same period 289,945 passengers arrived by airplane.


The 2000 census indicated Key West is home to 25,478 full time residents. The median age was 38.9 years, in contrast to the Florida average of 36.5 years. Eighteen percent of the City's population were from 0 to 19, 70 percent were from 20 to 64 and 12 percent were 65 and above.

Of the full-time residents, 72 percent were white (non-Hispanic), 10 percent were black (non-Hispanic), less than one percent were of all other races (non-Hispanic), and 16 percent were of Hispanic origin (of any race). Another characteristic of the local population is great mobility. Almost two-thirds of the 1990 inhabitants didn't live in the same dwelling five years previously, and only an estimated 20 percent of residents lived in the same dwelling over 15 years.

Real Estate

As Key West is a highly popular tourist destination is also a desirable residential location. This attraction plus the fact that it is an island with no expansion capacity has resulted in significant annual increases in assessed property values that are partially based on sale values. The chart below depicts the historic total aggregate assessed property value for the city.

The value of real estate sales for calendar year 2003 was $565,582,328.


There were 12,221 housing units in Key West in 1990. This is an increase of 1,355 units since 1980. Of the total dwellings, 39 percent were single family detached residences, 54 percent were multi-family units, 4 percent were mobile homes, and 3 percent were boats, tents, etc. Not included in the 1990 Census figures are the 4,345 hotel, motel, guest boarding house rooms, and campground sites and cottages in the City.

About 85 percent of all dwellings were occupied year-around, 8 percent were vacant for sale or rent, and 7 percent (808) were seasonally or otherwise used. Of the 10,424 permanently occupied units, 42 percent were owner-occupied and 58 percent were renter-occupied. Between 1980 and 1990, the percent of owner-occupied homes declined significantly, from 50 percent to 42 percent, while the percentage of renter-occupied units increased from 50 to 58 percent over the same period.

There are two distinguishing characteristics of housing in the City. One is age. Only 17 percent of all housing units in Key West were built after 1970, in contrast to 57 percent of the dwellings in Monroe County. Of all housing stock in the city, 28 percent (3,428) were built before 1939, compared to 8 percent in Monroe County.

The second major characteristic of City housing is cost. The median value of owner-occupied housing in 1990 was $147,400 compared to the state average of $76,400. Median gross monthly rent was $559, in contrast to the state average of $402. In 1996 (when the average single family home sale price was $220,300) National Association of Realtors data showed that Key West was the fourth most expensive housing market in the United States.

Military Presence

U.S. Coast Guard

United Stated Coast Guard Sector Key West has several missions including Search and Rescue, Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations, Counter-Narcotics, Living Marine Resources Enforcement, Maintaining Aids to Navigation, and Homeland Security.  The history of the United States Coast Guard in Key West has been one of dedicated service to the protection of lives and property as well as the enforcement of laws in peacetime and the protection of the country during wartime. It began in 1829, when the Revenue Cutter Florida was assigned to patrol the coast of Florida. Currently 12 cutters and patrol boats are assigned to Key West in addition to 3 search and rescue stations and 1 aid to navigation team. Key West is one of the busiest sectors in the entire Coast Guard

U. S. Navy

The presence of the United States Navy has been a factor in the life of the Key West since before its founding as a city. Today Naval Air Station Key West is:

  • The joint service aircrew training Station for transient tactical aviation squadrons. On any given day, the air Station could have up to 70 aircraft, 7 squadrons and over 800 people from all over the country representing various branches of service.
  • Host command for 26 Department of Defense and Department of Transportation commands along with all visiting United States and Allied ships and squadrons. 
  • The home of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Key West.
  • The home of Joint Interagency Task Force East, the command responsible for the federal drug interdiction program.

Members of our armed forces and their dependents have been valued residents in Key West and have contributed to the fabric and economy of the City. Currently, the total Navy military payroll is $71,000,000 and the civilian component is $40,800,000 per year. The Navy purchases $59,000,000 in goods and services per year. Naval Air Station Key West receives more than 120,000 official visitors to the command each year all of whom sojourn to the City’s tourist attractions in their leisure hours. At an average of $60.00 per day per visitor (official government per diem for travel to Key West), this contributes an estimated $36,700,000 per year to the economy.

During FY 02-03, 32.4 acres of the Truman Annex Navy property was transferred to the City at no cost. It consists of the following components:

  • Parks and recreation. - Plans for the development of this area are in preparation. It is expected that this will be a significant addition to “green space” for the City.
  • Economic development. - Part of this will be directed to the Bahama Village community. Bahama Village is immediately adjacent to the Navy property. It was and is home to many citizens of African-Bahamian decent. Much of the neighborhood was accessed by the Navy during the World War II to allow for base expansion. It has been returned to the City and will be used in part for small local businesses. This should prove a benefit to the neighborhood.

A separate parcel was conveyed to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. It houses part of the Key West Weather Office.

The ship berthing dock and the Outer Mole (Harbor) have been retained by the Navy in the interests of national defense. The Mole is available to the City under a license agreement that requires the City to remit 40% of gross Outer Mole cruise ship revenues to the Navy Outer Mole Payments Fund. The projected FY 04-05 $2,635,192 ending balance will be used for improvements to the Mole as determined by the Navy and City. This agreement has preserved docking capacity that is essential to the City’s economy. The Navy is currently investing significantly in other improvements to the Outer Mole, dredging the harbor and entrance channels thus assuring Key West’s future as a port of call. 

Current Projects

After the war with Iraq and the closing of its station in Puerto Rico, the Navy is refocused its sights on Key West. The Navy Training Resource Strategy keeps training near the continental U.S. and will result in an addition of 300 new personnel at Key West. Since 2002, $110,000,000 has been spent on improvements to the Boca Chica air base including a six-story air traffic control tower, the Truman Annex and Sigsbee Annex. The Navy's Outer Mole pier will see increased activity including additional battle group, carrier and counter drug ship, port visits. An initial $12,900,000 project to improve the Outer Mole Pier will be completed in November 2004. It is part of a $20,000,000 renovation program. The channel from the reef to the Truman Harbor is being dredged to a 34 foot depth under a $36,000,000 program that will continue to 2006. The Infrastructure Fund budget includes a complimentary project to dredge the Mallory Channel and the bay bottom near the Mallory Dock.

Navy City Cooperation

NAS Key West sites are permanently etched in military history.  During the Cuban Missile crisis the air Station earned the title “Gibraltar of the Gulf” coined 100 years earlier by the installation’s first commanding Officer.  The Navy, Coast Guard and the City have had 181 years of positive cooperative experience. This is expected to continue into the future.

On a recent visit to Key West, Admiral Robert Natter commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet was quoted as follows "I think the Navy's realized what a terrific base we have here and what benefit it is to the Navy. We look forward to sustaining the great relationship we have with the citizens of Key West, and I envision it as being even closer than it is today."