EFFECT ON KEY WEST

The case for regulating cruise ship access to heritage ports – please Charleston, take heed!
by ALAN FARAGO

Press Release: for immediate release
Key West and Venice Activists Unite to Stop Larger Cruise Ships

Key West, FL September 1, 2013:  Two iconic tourism destinations, intent on preserving their unique histories and natural environments, have joined forces. No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) in Venice (Italy) and the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism, (KWCRT)  issued a joint resolution  which strives to reduce the impacts of larger cruise ships.  Both internationally renowned destinations are overwhelmed by cruise ships, whose sheer mass and capacities threaten and overburden their delicate natural and built environments.

The “Comitato No Grandi Navi” (No Big Ships), Venice, and the “Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism,”  issued the joint resolution which recognizes the numerous negative impacts that the ever-larger cruise ships visit on their respective cities and resolves to “educate the public on the dire need to limit the size of vessels and number of passengers able to disembark on any single day in historic maritime ports.” Also, to promote sustainability, encourage balanced use and “discourage overcrowding which detracts from the experiences of tourists and locals alike.”

The resolution states that the vessels “far exceed anything that these historic ports were built to accommodate” and that “the numbers of passengers and crew overcrowd the narrow, historic streets.”

Venice has been one of the top world destinations for centuries, since the advent of “The Grand Tour,” which helped define modern tourism. Key West gained prominence as a tourist destination during the Great Depression in the 1930’s, largely due to its popularity amongst American poets, artists and writers, most notably Ernest Hemingway, who was a storied figure at both locations.

In Venice, the largest ships threaten the health of the lagoon and their cubic displacement raises the water level in the canals. Coupled with engine vibration, critics claim that the foundations of centuries-old, historic treasures are undermined.

In Key West, ships as large as 1000 feet (5000 passengers and crew) can already enter the harbor, but voters face a referendum in October which authorizes an Army Corps of Engineers study to determine the best method to dredge and widen the entrance to allow even larger ships. The opponents argue that the combination of the dredging plus the impacts associated with the larger ships will further endanger  threatened corals and the reef, the third largest barrier reef in the world.

Jolly S. Benson, Chairman of the KWCRT, states, “both cities are seeing their culture and way of life diminished and both are seeing the very real effects these larger ships have on our sensitive ecosystems.” He adds, “We are looking forward to sharing ideas, data, and our support with No Grandi Navi.”

Silvio Testa, Spokesman for the Comitato No Grandi Navi  —  Laguna Bene Comune, recently told The Nation Magazine, “Cruise ships may not be entirely to blame, but they are a major component of a mechanism that is changing Venice like a gradual tide that erodes the substance of the city.” In signing the joint resolution, he noted, “we need to explain to everybody that wherever these ships go, they create problems.”

Ships as large as the 1000+ foot Carnival Magic are already able to dock in Key West. On October 1, Key West voters will consider a referendum to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study a dredging proposal that would permit even larger ships

# # #

The question of whether or not to dredge the shipping channel into Key West mirrors the challenges we are facing in Charleston.
Click here to view editorial in Thursday’s Post and Courier

Shipping channel is wide gulf to overcome in Key West, Fla.

By Richard Morin, Published: September 30

This recent article from The Washington Post parallels many of the same issues we may face in Charleston.

KEY WEST, Fla. — The little boy, no older than 10, urgently tugs his father’s hand. He points at a T-shirt displayed above the entrance of the Jungle Paradise shirt shop on lower Duval Street, this iconic town’s iconic main street.
“That’s the one. That’s the one I want!”
The shirt displays the silhouette of a dachshund on its back, feet pointing skyward.
“My Weiner does tricks,” the shirt reads.
His mother instantly swoops in, leading father, young son and his smirking teenage brother through the crowds of cruise-ship tourists that spill off the sidewalk and onto the street.Cruise-ship tourists, the bawdy clothing stores and cheap curio shops that feed their impulse buying and the giant cruise ships that trail mile-long plumes of mud as they pass through a federally protected marine sanctuary are the focus of what may be one of the country’s strangest and most ferocious municipal elections.
It’s a campaign that is measuring the limits of tolerance in this city celebrated for its embrace of the eccentric, the off-kilter and the outré. It also may be the only small-town election this year where gays, transsexuals, bisexuals and drag queens constitute a major voting bloc; where the issues include the sex lives of tiny coral polyps and a giant prehistoric fish, or where one side is led by a local contractor and writer who has authored a play about a conflicted metrosexual zombie.At issue in the vote Tuesday is a referendum backed by the local chamber of commerce. It directs the city commission to request the Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of widening the main shipping channel from 300 to 450 feet to accommodate larger cruise ships.The channel would be enlarged by dredging up a mile-long, 150-foot-wide swath of living corals, sponges, sand, mud and “live rock” — chunks of stone encrusted with marine life — from the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.The resulting campaign has kept Key West’s 25,000 residents alternately entertained and appalled through the sweltering summer and into the fall.Supporters of the dredging study are pilloried as a few greedy business owners with little regard for the environment or the equally fragile charms of their island city.Opponents are ridiculed as “coral huggers” and elitists who would sacrifice local jobs to remake Key West into the Hamptons.“This campaign is fierce!” said Sushi, the unofficial queen of the Key West drag queens and a local resident who is lowered in a giant ruby slipper outside a club on Duval each New Year’s Eve as CNN cameras roll.New style of cruise shipsTo supporters of the dredging study, the wider channel is necessary to accommodate the latest generation of cruise ships that are replacing an aging stock of smaller vessels on the Caribbean circuit.The new ships carry 4,300 passengers and crew, and measure 1,110 feet in length and 127 feet wide — too long and wide to safely enter the existing channel.Without a wider front door, these floating cities will continue to bypass Key West and the city’s $87 million cruise ship industry will wither, said lawyer Jennifer Hulse, the head of the pro-study group. Cruise ship tourism has plunged 30 percent since 2003, in part because of the narrow channel. A projected 714,000 tourists — roughly a third of all city visitors — will arrive in Key West aboard cruise ships this season, down 16 percent from the previous year, she said.

Cruise ship taxes and fees amount to about 15 percent of the city’s tax revenue. With fewer cruise ship dollars, city commissioners will be forced to raise taxes or slash services, she predicted.

Besides, “it’s only a study,” Hulse said. “If you are an environmentalist, you should not oppose an environmental study.”

But opponents fear the study would lead to dredging in the protected sanctuary, an act they liken to dynamiting the Sistine Chapel.

“This is the shoe in the door, the camel’s nose under the tent,” said Jolly Benson, who directs the anti-study campaign, at a recent public debate at the Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West.

The dredge site is home to at least two species of endangered corals. Dense clouds of silt kicked up by the larger ships would endanger nearby coral and the offshore reef, says Benson, a Key West lighting contractor and part-time playwright. Dredging also would threaten the annual spawning migration of tarpon, he said. Anglers prize this holdover fish from the Cretaceous era that grows to more than 200 pounds.

“The cruise ships that come in here will still be able to come,” he said. “We don’t need to rip out sensitive marine environment to make room for bigger cruise ships. We’re done selling ourselves out.”

Cruising downtown

On a recent Tuesday morning, the streets of lower Duval and Front overflow with more than 5,000 passengers and crew members on a five-hour layover from the Carnival Lines ships Imagination and Magic.

Barkers twirling hand-lettered cardboard signs (“Everything inside $5”) stand outside stores selling cheap clothing and trinkets. Another touts $2 beers and $4 margaritas. Rick’s, a complex of eight bars and a strip club owned by Mark Rossi, a city commissioner and cruise-industry champion, is doing a brisk morning business.

“We need a main street we can be proud of,” said John Martini, an internationally acclaimed sculptor and Key West resident since 1976. When he first arrived, Martini said the lower eight blocks of Duval was the heart of the town. Residents shopped at Fast Buck Freddie’s department store, now shuttered, ate and drank in downtown restaurants, bought and sold art in downtown galleries.

The cruise ships came in the mid-1980s. And with them, the crowds and “honky-tonk,” Martini said. “Now no resident goes downtown,” Martini said. “We want our main street back.”

Ed Swift, the 66-year-old co-owner of the town’s leading tour company, has lived in Key West since he was a teenager. He also remembers the town in the late-1970s and 1980s.

“It was a great place to live as long as you didn’t have to make a living,” he recalled.

The Navy, then the city’s largest employer, closed its base in the early 1970s and the local economy collapsed, Swift said. Then the first cruise ship, a converted troop carrier, arrived around 1982, opening the door to today’s $87 million dollar industry.

Swift said study opponents are “elitists” out to remake Key West into a sedate enclave for the wealthy.

“A lot of people here don’t need this economy for their well-being,” he said. “They can afford to retire and buy a home. The whole cruise ship thing is in their face.”

Swift allowed that lower Duval is “pretty raunchy.” He also objected to the soft-porn T-shirt stores and cheap souvenir shops. “But folks who buy stuff there also buy high-end stuff, too.”

Besides, Swift said, lower Duval has “always been a little honky- tonk.”

Areas of agreement between the two sides are as rare here as 60-degree days in August. But they agree on one thing: The vote will define Key West for decades to come.

“It’s going to decide whether we are willing to give up our downtown and our environment for a not-so-sure profit,” Martini said.

“Nobody wants to damage the environment,” Swift said. “But we need a wider channel to keep us viable as a port. There has to be a certain amount of tolerance on a two-by-four-mile island.”

Click to view entire article

Key West Voters: ‘NO WAY’

By nearly 3-to-1, Key West voters Tuesday soundly defeated the ballot question of whether the city needs a formal study on the impacts of dredging the main ship channel to better accommodate modern, longer cruise ships.

The question failed 74 to 26 percent, as voter turnout hit 41 percent.
“We stuck together and didn’t sell out to special interests,” said Jolly Benson, chairman of the anti-study political action committee Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism. “They can’t come out and run all over us. This is the last time.”
The pro-study movement raised almost $172,000 and spent $165,000 between February and last Friday, airing TV spots that featured local business owners backing the study as a way to ensure

Key West tourism dollars keep coming.
Real estate magnate Ed Knight kicked in $25,000 earlier this month, while Pier B wrote two $15,000 checks this month.
Pier B, one of three cruise ship docks in Key West and the only privately owned one, is owned by the Walsh family, who developed Sunset Key and run the Westin Resorts.
The Westin, via email, asked its employees for an “all hands on deck” volunteer effort, working phone banks and waving “Support the Study” signs on the roadways, while Historic Tours of America sent out a pro-study letter to employees and asked nonprofits to jump on the bandwagon.
“While this issue is particularly important to our success, it will affect our entire Key West economy and many, many working people for years to come,” wrote HTA President Ed Swift and CEO Chris Belland in a form letter this month.

In contrast, the anti-study camp raised $80,000 and spent $78,000 during the same time period, relying on print, radio and social media advertising to get its message out.
Benson, whose parents accompanied him to Old City Hall to wait out the results, spent the past nine months in the public eye insisting that a vote for the study was an endorsement of dredging the federally protected bay bottom and endangering Key West’s fragile coral reef.
The anti-study movement framed the battle as the very, very rich trying to pull a fast one on an island filled with working-class families at the expense of the environment.
“That’s what they needed to do to win,” said attorney Jennifer Hulse, a spokeswoman for the pro-study Greater Key West Chamber of Commerce PAC.
Hulse this year pinned the cruise ship industry’s economic impact on Key West at between $84 million and $90 million each year, as some 800,000 passengers land on the island annually.
“People misunderstood,” Hulse said after the results came in. “This is simply about a study — not to dredge the channel.”
After the results were tallied, Hulse did not concede her argument that voting down the opportunity for an Army Corps of Engineer’s study on channel-dredging would eventually take a toll on the local tourist-reliant economy.

“In the next five to 10 years we will have declining cruise ship numbers. With cruise ships accounting for 15 percent of our tax revenue, the City Commission has to take that into account.”
Post-election, Key West’s Green Parrot bar on Whitehead Street was filled with voters beaming at having defeated a well-heeled movement.
“For once it wasn’t ‘money talks and the common folks walk,'” said Chris Stone, a vocal opponent of the study question. “Nobody wants this island to be for sale.”
The cruise ship, channel-dredging issue has remained a constant on the island for the past several years.
Last fall, the City Commission punted the question to voters after an emotional town hall-style meeting.
Mark Songer, of the environmental protection group Last Stand, who helped organize the PAC, said city leaders should respect the 73 percent “no” vote and work to promote tourism in areas other than cruise ships.

“I’m hopeful it is over,” Songer said. “This was a decision.”

A poll of commissioners this year showed they would have ordered the study by a 4-3 vote, with the dissenters being Teri Johnston, Clayton Lopez and Jimmy Weekley. Mayor Craig Cates and Commissioners Mark Rossi, Billy Wardlow and Tony Yaniz said they would have voted “yes” on the dais.
Cates, who won Tuesday 54 percent to 46 percent against political critic Margaret Romero, who has never held public office, tied the tighter-than-expected margin to his support of the study.
But Cates added that he was only for the study and not convinced the ship channel should be widened.

Tuesday night, self-proclaimed hippies, artists and rabble-rousers reveled at The Green Parrot, where anti-dredging T-shirts and flags were plentiful.
“What’s making me so happy is it’s all about love,” said Nance Boylan, who joined in the post-election party at the bar. “Love for our environment, for our sea animals and the unity that exists here in Key West, all of us together.”

gfilosa@keysnews.com

Key  West Committee for Responsible  Tourism, for immediate release
Key West and Venice  Activists Unite to Stop Larger Cruise  Ships

Key West, FL September 1, 2013: Two iconic tourism destinations, intent on preserving their unique histories and natural environments, have joined
forces. No Grandi Navi (No Big Ships) in Venice (Italy) and the Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism, (KWCRT) issued a joint resolution which
strives to reduce the impacts of larger cruise ships. Both internationally renowned destinations are overwhelmed by cruise ships, whose sheer mass
and capacities threaten and overburden their delicate natural and built environments.

The “Comitato No Grandi Navi” (No Big Ships), Venice, and the “Key West Committee for Responsible Tourism,” issued the joint resolution which
recognizes the numerous negative impacts that the ever-larger cruise ships visit on their respective cities and resolves to “educate the public on the
dire need to limit the size of vessels and number of passengers able to disembark on any single day in historic maritime ports.” Also, to promote
sustainability, encourage balanced use and “discourage overcrowding which detracts from the experiences of tourists and locals alike.

“The resolution states that the vessels “far exceed anything that these historic ports were built to accommodate” and that “the numbers of passengers
and crew overcrowd the narrow, historic streets.” Venice has been one of the top world destinations for centuries, since the advent of “The Grand Tour,” which helped define modern tourism. Key West gained prominence as a tourist destination during the Great Depression in the 1930’s, largely due to its popularity amongst American poets, artists and writers, most notably Ernest Hemingway, who was a storied figure at both
locations.

In Venice, the largest ships threaten the health of the lagoon and their cubic displacement raises the water level in the canals. Coupled with engine
vibration, critics claim that the foundations of centuries-old, historic treasures are undermined.

In Key West, ships as large as 1000 feet (5000 passengers and crew) can already enter the harbor, but voters face a referendum in October which
authorizes an Army Corps of Engineers study to determine the best method to dredge and widen the entrance to allow even larger ships. The opponents argue
that the combination of the dredging plus the impacts associated with the larger ships will further endanger threatened corals and the reef, the third
largest barrier reef in the world.

Jolly S. Benson, Chairman of the KWCRT, states, “both cities are seeing their culture and way of life diminished and both are seeing the very real
effects these larger ships have on our sensitive ecosystems.” He adds, “We are looking forward to sharing ideas, data, and our support with No Grandi
Navi.”

Silvio Testa, Spokesman for the Comitato No Grandi Navi — Laguna Bene Comune, recently told The Nation Magazine, “Cruise ships may not be entirely
to blame, but they are a major component of a mechanism that is changing Venice like a gradual tide that erodes the substance of the city.” In signing
the joint resolution, he noted, “we need to explain to everybody that wherever these ships go, they create problems.”

Ships as large as the 1000+ foot Carnival Magic are already able to dock in Key West. On October 1, Key West voters will consider a referendum to
authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study a dredging proposal that would permit even larger ships.

Contact:  Jolly S. Benson
Key  West Committee for Responsible  Tourism
Phone: (305)  797-2106
http://responsibletourismkw.com

PO Box 1331  Key West FL  33041

“SILVER LINING”
A Video by Jekyll Works

A wonderful video that documents the effects of what would be lost in Key West if they dredge the deeper channel.  It’s hard to believe they are even considering it, but the lesson there is that once the cruise industry settles in a town, it is very hard to reverse direction.

Click here to view the video: http://vimeo.com/59767477

 

“CRUISE SHIPS HAVE CHASED LOCALS FROM DUVAL STREET”
Key West Citizen–May 10,2012—article about Key West’s strongest local retailer closing on Key West’s Main Street (Duval Street)

Fast Buck Freddie’s closing soon

Fast Buck Freddie’s, a Duval Street landmark for nearly four decades, will close later this month.

Owner Tony Falcone, who opened the store in 1976 with his late partner, Bill Conkle, said his decision is based on the changes that have overtaken the retail world in recent years.

“Everything’s about online shopping now, and at least 100 times a day, people walk through and comment on how interesting or unique a piece is, then they scan the bar code or take a photo with their phone and immediately try to find it online,” Falcone said. “The Internet sites have a warehouse and five people; they don’t have a staff, rent, displays and everything else.”

He told his 50-member staff of the closure Wednesday morning, and Friday begins a clearance sale to empty the 15,000-square-foot space in the first floor of the historic Kress building at the corner of Duval and Fleming streets. The store will close when the merchandise, at an initial 20 percent discount, is gone.

Falcone said his employees, most of whom have been with him for more than 15 years, sort of anticipated the Wednesday announcement, though it didn’t mean it wasn’t a roomful of moist eyes, he said.

“I’ve always been very, very open with my staff and, really, I should have closed the store three years ago if I was only looking at the bottom line,” Falcone said. “These Americana small towns are really defined by their main streets, and cruise ships have chased locals from Duval Street.”

He said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for him was the City Commission’s decision last year to stop plans for outdoor cafe seating in a few blocks of Duval Street on a trial basis.

“I’ve always been so passionate about saving Duval Street, and if the city doesn’t have any foresight to see what they’re creating down there, then there’s no point.”

City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, who championed the outdoor cafe plans and who has been friends with Falcone for more than 20 years, was discouraged by what the closing means for Duval Street and Key West in general.

“This is going to have a major impact,” Weekley said. “Fast Buck Freddie’s was the jewel in the crown of Duval Street. They were the class of Duval Street and were making a statement as to what it could be.”

Falcone had approached shops like Gap, Anthropologie and Abercrombie Fitch to fill the void being left by Fast Buck Freddie’s.

“They were all interested in coming to Key West, but not for at least a year, depending on the economy,” he said, adding that he’ll know more about future tenants in the coming week or so. “There are still some different options out there, some I’m not thrilled with, and I’m hoping the good guy comes through.”

Fast Buck Freddie’s has been in its current location since 1978, and has received international media attention for its creative window displays, which in 2006 saw Fantasy Fest king candidate Gregg McGrady living in the window for three days while raising money for AIDS Help.

Falcone and Conkle appeared on the “Today Show” and in Time Magazine when they opened what they called one of the country’s first “lifestyle” stores, which had all the features of a department store, but on a much smaller scale.

“We’d pick out four kinds of wineglasses and four types of linens that hopefully people hadn’t seen anywhere else,” he said, adding that Fast Buck’s was like Pier 1 Imports long before anyone had smelled their first candle in Pier 1.

The rest of the Kress building houses the offices and merchandising arm of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, and Key West real estate tycoon David Wolkowsky has retained ownership of the penthouse apartment that he has filled with antiques and collectibles.

Wolkowsky bought the building in 1978 for $210,000 and rented the downstairs retail space to Falcone and Conkle. In 1993, Falcone, Buffett and their business partners bought the property for $3 million, according to Monroe County Property Appraiser’s Office records. Wolkowsky maintains a life estate for the penthouse apartment, which will belong to him until he dies.

The store’s name comes from the title of a Jefferson Starship song. While trying to come up with an interesting name for their new store, Falcone and Conkle were flipping through albums for inspiration and saw Jefferson Starship’s “Red Octopus.” The song “Fast Buck Freddie” sounded fitting for South Florida in the late 1970s, when drug runners, real estate sharks and con artists started populating the area, according to the store’s website.

Fast Buck Freddie’s has long been an Old Town staple for holiday shopping, tropical gifts, furniture, clothing and housewares.

Falcone divides his time among Key West, Indonesia and Thailand, where he procured much of the furniture the store sells. He told The Citizen this week that he has plans for some other projects. Fast Buck’s at Home, the home furnishings shop on Caroline Street, will remain open.

“It’s off Duval Street, so I’m hoping locals will come more readily,” Falcone said, adding that he may put some additional items such as jewelry in the smaller shop.

“I’ll never leave Key West and I’ll die in this house,” he said from his outdoor living room on Eaton Street. “We’ve had a great time with the store. It was our creative outlet, it defined our place in the community and provided for exciting travels and I’m not ready to give that all up.”

He said he still believes Key West is magic, and he hopes people will decide to put in the work, find a direction and preserve it.

“There’s a magic here and the city needs to see that,” he said, discouraged by commissioners who brag about how many years it’s been since they’ve been to Duval Street.

Fast Buck’s beloved window designer Ann Lorraine has already started on plans for the final window display.

“Her mind was already churning when I told the staff we were closing,” Falcone said. “Her mind never stops, and that vision, of creative design and merchandising, is a lost art.”

The theme for the last window shoppers is, appropriately, “Thanks for the Memories.”

mmiles@keysnews.com