The project manager on a sweeping plan to redesign Duval Street has resigned from the consulting firm hired Key West, leaving the development temporarily without a leader and causing some concern among some city officials.

Heidi Siegel, the overall project manager for KCI Technologies, Inc., an urban planning, design and construction firm, resigned from KCI recently, leaving the Key West project just as it was slated to begin. KCI was hired last year to oversee a top-to-bottom “revitalization” of Duval Street, including lighting, signage, landscaping, seating and shade.

Mayor Teri Johnston said Siegel had the most previous experience working in Key West and had already done a significant amount of groundwork to kick off the project.

“She has left KCI. That leaves us with a conundrum here. We need to have a public conversation about this,” Johnston said.

City Manager Greg Veliz said KCI was scheduled to make a presentation to city commissioners at their March 16 meeting, which had to be postponed to March 31 because it wasn’t advertised as required by state law. Veliz said Siegel was the point person on the project and the one he talked to regularly about it.

“She was the face, as far as we’re concerned, of the organization,” he said, referring to KCI.

A contract with KCI was signed last year so there is no question of replacing them with another vendor. Bruce Reed, KCI regional practice leader, said his firm had just begun to negotiate specific work-order deliverables with the city, which he called “scope refinement.” He acknowledged Siegel was an integral part of the KCI project team but that the firm has a replacement waiting to go as soon as city commissioners give the go-ahead.

“That [Siegel’s replacement] hasn’t been discussed yet [with city officials]. But we have a very well-qualified person. They are very familiar with Key West,” Reed said.

Veliz said he expected the scope refinement negotiations — which will lay out specific steps and associated costs in the first phase of the project — to continue as soon as city commissioners receive an update on the project manager change.

“Are they still a viable company? Yes. They’re a big company. They don’t fold their tent and go home,” Veliz said about the firm, which has six offices in Florida and serves clients throughout the country.

KCI is currently working with the city on another project to improve Midtown streets with new street signage, landscaping, curb cuts and street rotaries. The city had previously hired KCI to design and manage the North Roosevelt Boulevard landscaping project that resulted in a long stretch of palm trees being planted along the waterside of the boulevard.

The Duval Reimagined project will involve three phases and will be completed in multiple steps as the city finds money to pay for the work. The first phase is community outreach and feasibility, including an assessment of storm drainage and traffic needs. The second phase is engineering and the third phase would implement the approved design, including zoning, construction and maintenance. The project is expected to take several years to complete.

“Our approach will build upon recent private investments and city ordinances. The recent installation of a pedestrian plaza at the Southernmost House and the new sidewalk café ordinance can be used to guide the essence of the transformation. Conversely, the transformation of Duval Street has the opportunity to make the new sidewalk café ordinance more viable,” last year’s KCI proposal read.

One early idea for the middle section of Duval resulted in a social media shellacking recently. An artist rendering in the original request for qualifications last year showed an almost unrecognizable Duval Street complete with a wavy glass roof over the street more reminiscent of Miami Beach. Several hundred people commented on Facebook, almost all negative.

However, Reed said the artist rendering was included in the RFQ only as a point of reference and not a specific design proposal. He said the first step in the project is to gather public input. Siegel envisioned a series of public community meetings to get resident and stakeholder input on how to clean up the street and add enhancements. Reed said that is still the first step, however, the meetings may now have to be held virtually due to COVID-19.

Reed said the social media reaction to the artist rendering was “very” premature.

“Until we get rolling on the project, there’s really nothing to talk about yet,” he said about how a reimagined Duval Street might look.