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Concrete Paradise

By Wendy Shannon, Shannon & Company

I’ve traveled many times to the Florida Keys for rest and relaxation, but this time I was flying in to meet with the developer and the design architect of SeaSide Key West, a highend residential project constructed entirely of concrete. Towards the end of the 90-minute direct flight from Atlanta to Key West, I glanced down and actually caught a glimpse of these beautiful contemporary “conch” town homes gracing the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. As we landed, I prepared myself to visit what may be the last mixed-use residential development that will be built in this bit of paradise.

At the southernmost tip of the United States, only 90 miles from Cuba, Key West is the last in a chain of islands extending 150 miles southwest from Miami. These islands have long been a prime destination for travelers from around the world. Sport and flats fishing, reef and wreck diving, yachting and international boat racing attract thousands throughout the year and cultural opportunities abound. And with an average annual temperature of 77 degrees, which rarely varies more than 10 degrees in either direction, the weather is ideal.

After I exited the airport, I hailed a flamingo-pink taxi and headed for SeaSide. As we traveled up South Roosevelt Drive, I took in the view—clear blue water and graceful palm trees. Within minutes, we turned onto SeaSide Drive and passed through the entrance where I was greeted by SeaSide’s developer Robert “Bob” Butler and Steve Johnson, the project’s design architect. Both are with Key West SeaSide, LLC, a subsidiary of The Argonaut Group, a major development company known for creating outstanding communities throughout Florida. Butler was wearing a traditional suit and tie while Johnson donned shorts and sandals, Key West’s “official” corporate attire. I immediately sensed that this seemingly “odd couple” team would have a positive impact on the project.

Together the three of us explored this exclusive community, destined to be the largest planned development in the Keys. The town homes are clustered on roughly 16 acres of a 64-acre parcel that Butler acquired in 1986. Six acres within the development’s core area have been reserved as natural areas.

SeaSide Drive divides the northern and southern sections of the community. Each section has its own entry, swimming pool and pool house. The luxurious concrete pools are each approximately 1,200 square feet, six feet deep and surrounded with concrete decking finished with brick pavers. A community clubhouse is adjacent to the southern section’s pool and boasts an owner’s lounge, library, fully equipped exercise room and management office. While the project was still a work in progress during my visit, I could see a tropical paradise emerging replete with Caribbean influenced landscaping and extensive accent lighting.

“I think the four-story, fee simple town house overlooking the ocean will prove to be a most unique property in Key West,” explained Butler. Typically buyers interested in Key West properties can select an aged “conch” house or condominium with little yard space and even less room for parking. SeaSide’s contemporary “conch” town homes offer a fenced rear yard and a fully enclosed two-car garage, amenities virtually unheard of on the island. Residents will also have community retail within convenient walking distance. From many vantage points in the three- and four-story homes, residents will enjoy spectacular views of the ocean or the island.

Potential homeowners will be pleased with design functionality and quality of construction found in the SeaSide homes and they will find them as impressive as any gracing the cover of Architectural Digest. With open, flexible floor plans, private elevators, multiple decks, and high-end amenities galore, these homes are elegant and refined. Room heights add to the feeling of luxury with ceilings in living areas vaulting to 12 feet. Each kitchen is outfitted with top-of-the-line GE appliances, and the baths feature oversized whirlpool tubs, glass-enclosed showers and Kohler fixtures.

After touring SeaSide, we traveled the ten-minute drive towards the heart of Key West and dined on the porch of Louie’s Backyard, a local restaurant with fabulous regional cuisine. As we finished lunch, we enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere prevalent throughout the Florida Keys, and further discussed the SeaSide project.

Butler explained that the opportunity to own a coastal town home on Key West is rare and, therefore, very appealing to many upper-end homebuyers. Large tracts of land suited for residential development is scarce, and what development there is, is carefully monitored. Much of the oceanfront land is owned by the federal government, which uses the property for Naval Air Stations. And strict evacuation ordinances exist on all the islands, adding further building constraints. A seasoned developer, Butler knew that if he ever had the chance to build along the coastline of Key West, it would be a prospect too good to pass up.

Having developed many communities throughout Florida and beyond, Butler and Johnson recognized the challenges facing homeowners in that region and strived to build disaster-and insect-resistant, energy efficient and low maintenance town homes. To meet those goals, the team selected the time-honored material of concrete. From previous experience, they knew that concrete would yield rock-solid, environmentally responsible town homes of distinction and comfort. They were also confident that homebuyers would value the benefits of reduced ownership costs, insurance premiums, monthly utility bills and noise. “And we think that SeaSide residents will be particularly appreciative of the peace and quiet that concrete offers in a town home setting,” Johnson explained.

Once the team decided to use concrete, going with Outinord Universal, Inc.’s tunnelforming system was a given. In Key West, The Argonaut Group and/or its affiliates had already built four other phases of the SeaSide community, each time employing Outinord’s construction system. “We chose to go with Outinord tunnelforms for their ease of use, the speed with which we can pour concrete and the quality of the finished product it delivers,” said Butler.

In the early 1980’s, an Argonaut affiliate designed, developed and completed the Ocean Key Resort at the end of Duval Street, using conventional construction methods. The team quickly discovered that construction on an island, 150 miles from the mainland, was more than challenging. The remote location caused substantial time delays, consistently overrun budgets and incomplete subcontracts.

Shortly thereafter, the group began construction on the Ocean Walk Apartments complex and was determined to find a better way of building. Outinord provided specific time and output estimates that their tunnelform technology would deliver. Their estimates proved to be accurate, enabling the entire project to stay on schedule. “We delivered the first building in seven and one-half months, which was unheard of in Key West construction history,” stated Butler.

During the construction of Ocean Walk, Butler continued to see the benefits of using Outinord’s building system. The aggregates needed to make concrete were readily available on the islands, dramatically cutting down transportation costs of construction materials. And the opportunity to eliminate furring and drywall of the structural walls proved to be a significant savings. Argonaut has continued to use Outinord’s concrete forming system for every other construction project in the Keys and has plans to use the system in mainland projects, including a large-scale residential project in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Michael Taylor, president of Current Builders, Inc., of Pompano, Florida has managed SeaSide’s construction process. While this is their first project in the Keys, Current Builders are by no means strangers to construction in southern Florida or to Outinord’s tunnelforming system. They have also used the tunnelform concrete construction method to pour concrete shells in two other Florida projects, Heron Cove Apartments in Naples, Florida and Heron Pond Apartments in Lehigh Acres, Florida.

“Being able to pour walls and ceilings in one monolithic pour allows work to be scheduled in a very precise and timely manner,” stated Taylor. “This allows us to keep our subcontracted labor on pace and speed up the entire process.” Designed to cast load bearing walls and slab in a single pour, Outinord tunnelforms are especially well-suited to the construction of multiple residential dwellings. On the SeaSide project they were able to pour almost two units a day, on average. That’s roughly the equivalent of 5,000 square feet per day.

In addition to its cost-effectiveness, durability, and ease of transport, Outinord’s tunnelforming system readily accommodates door and window openings, plumbing, electric and built-in embeds. The finished product offers a superb concrete finish with perfect wall alignment and a structure that is dimensionally accurate to 1/32″ (1mm). The system is also flexible enough to adapt to any existing building plans and lends itself to inventive architectural design ideas.

For a short time, Butler and Johnson actually considered going with conventional masonry block with the SeaSide project, as they were assured that the costs would prove comparable to Outinord’s. However, as the project commenced, subcontractor bids and other costs exceeded the intended budget by nearly $8 million, or almost 50%. “We immediately changed the structural system to Outinord’s tunnelforming system,” said Butler. “The result has been reducing costs back to the original budget—and a better quality product.”

The entire SeaSide community contains 1,050 units, with completion of the last 96 units scheduled for December 2004. Of the 96 units priced to $1,750,000 ($600 per A/C sq. foot), only four units remain unsold. That’s quite an endorsement.

As I left Key West for home, I found myself enthralled with the wonders of concrete. Once again, it was proven to me that the beauty, longevity and overall quality of construction available with this time-honored material, is a worthy investment for developer, builder, homebuyer alike. There are very few places in the world like the Keys. There are even fewer places that can offer the serenity, security and stability to those seeking to their own luxury get-away. I learned that SeaSide Key West is such a place. And, as a potential homebuyer myself, I was glad to discover that a slice of paradise is within reach.

This article was reprinted from
Concrete Homes Magazine.

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