In a bid to rescue a faded bit of Palm Beach County history, the Port of Palm Beach will ask the county to take over the John F. Kennedy bunker on Peanut Island.
The port commission on Thursday unanimously directed staff to approach county officials about a deal to lease the landmark and turn it into a county park. However, port commissioner Peyton McArthur noted that the county’s tight budget might make it reluctant to take on a new expense.
Estimates for repairs range from $500,000 to $5 million.
If the county declines to turn the bunker into a county park, the port could turn to state or federal agencies.
The Port of Palm Beach owns the property and leases it to the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. That 25-year lease expires Oct. 31.
The bulk of 80-acre Peanut Island, just inside the Lake Worth Inlet, also known as the Palm Beach Inlet, is already a county park. It is a popular weekend gathering spot for boaters, swimmers, fishermen and snorkelers and offers campsites, picnic tables and a hiking trail.
The underground bunker was built for Kennedy in 1961 as a top-secret nuclear bomb shelter. It was equipped to house 30 people for up to 30 days. The fallout shelter, three-story gabled wood former station, and the other buildings are open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
The proposal to look into a possible county takeover comes after three years of discord between the port and the museum over Palm Beach County code violations and condition issues at the property. That’s on top of years of turmoil over disrepair, lawsuits and disagreements over its use for special events.
In 2005, the county considered taking over the property, but couldn’t wrest the lease from the museum. Then, last October, the county commission directed its staff to research taking over the facilities as a county park. The county’s lease or purchase of the property couldn’t be pursued then because the property was leased to the museum.