Key West board amenable to overnight ferry but concerns linger


This is the boat that would spend two nights a week twice weekly at the Key West Ferry Terminal.


Concerns about dock space and security are standing in the way of an overnight ferry service from Marco Island to Key West, but members of the Key West Bight Management District Board think those issues can be ironed out.

At Wednesday's board meeting, a Southwest Florida-based business proposed bringing Key West Great Escape, a 177-foot "boutique" cruise ship with 40 cabins, accommodating up to 80 people, to Key West twice weekly. Each stop would last two nights.

Apparently, the Key West Express (daily service to Fort Myers Beach or Marco Island) and the Yankee Freedom (daily service to Fort Jefferson) are already "hot-slipping" at the city Ferry Terminal at the end of Caroline and Grinnell streets, meaning there is very little time between one ship leaving port and another pulling in to dock.

"Another concern was security," said board member Harry Bowman. "Those people going out and partying in Key West and coming back to the boat at 2 o'clock in the morning, there's a security problem there."

City ports Director Doug Bradshaw will look at possible solutions to those problems in the coming weeks, Bowman said, and Bowman believes dock space can be found.
"It may not be directly into the ferry terminal, it might be over at the city dock, who knows," he said, "but I think they can work it out and give them a spot."

Bowman supports the idea, and believes 80 passengers staying in Key West four nights a week would be an economic benefit to the community. He points out that unlike large cruise ships, these passengers would not be provided meals on board and would spend the meal money on the island.

Another concern is whether the passengers on an overnight ferry would pay a bed tax (4 percent per night per hotel room). The Lodging Association of the Florida Keys and Key West wants to make sure visitor taxes are assessed fairly.

Lodging Association President Jodi Weinhofer says lots of questions remain, and she doesn't think the board got very far Wednesday. She has asked for more information from the Monroe County Tourist Development Council about who exactly is subject to bed taxes.

"What they're talking about, it's two nights, twice a week -- an additional 40 overnight rooms in Key West," she said. "We don't even have a guest house that has 40 rooms, so you're talking about a lot of additional rooms, in our minds, that are not paying a bed tax, and that's all we care about. As long as everybody's playing by the same rules, then we're fine with that."

However, Bowman thinks that if the passengers are charged a $5 disembarkation and embarkation fee, as the proposal states, that it's a fair trade.

"I am satisfied if they're paying that fee in some form or another," he said. "The main thing, I think, is the docking question -- that's a tough one. But I believe they can work it out."

No vote was taken on the measure, and it's expected to be placed on the board's Aug. 13 agenda for further discussion. The board meets at Old City Hall at 5 p.m.

Under the proposal, a five- to 10-year agreement would be set up with Key West Great Escape paying a dockage rate of $30 per foot per month with annual increases dependent on the Consumer Price Index. Passengers would pay a $5 embarkation and disembarkation fee with each trip, and the company would pay a 10-cent-per-gallon fuel surcharge to the city in exchange for using the ferry terminal's fueling system.

In other business, the board approved funding to Barracuda Builders for repairs to the business at 201 William St.; funding for William P. Horn Architects to design a roof for B.O.'s Fish Wagon; and funding for William P. Horn Architects to design a common area enhancement plan at Margaret Street and the Harborwalk on Lazy Way, and at the Bath House. All three motions passed 5-0; Steve Henson and Kathy Ovide were absent from the meeting.

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