As Jet Ski riders frolicked in teal ocean waters near Key West's South Beach Pier, tourists ogled the handmade jewelry that artisan Dennis Tomlinson had laid out on towels Friday morning.
About a block away, strollers marveled at the oil paintings of Bob Surett, their vivid island colors portraying Key West landmarks.
Future visitors to these southernmost streets may no longer be afforded those diversions, if a proposed ordinance banning artists, vendors and street performers from the area is passed by the City Commission. Its sponsor, Commissioner Clayton Lopez, says an all-out ban may not be the result when he and other commissioners discuss the matter at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Old City Hall on Greene Street. But the possibility looms.
Nearly a year ago, commissioners enacted an ordinance banning them from Duval Street between Petronia and South streets, an area referred to as the "cultural district." The proposed ordinance would extend that district all the way to the Atlantic Ocean waters that lap at the South Beach pier's southernmost end.
"We have had numerous complaints where the guys there would get into arguments and fights, and then there were complaints from some businesses and residents," Lopez said. "When we created the original ordinance, we left out that portion, thinking there were only one or two artists down there on a regular basis. Then everybody else started coming. This ordinance is an attempt to fix something that was omitted. It is not my intention to eliminate them, but regulate how many can be there."
Friday morning's crop of tourists, some fresh off two cruise ships, marveled at the southernmost buoy a scant block away from the beach, making their way on limited schedules to the foot of Duval Street, stopping to look at paintings, jewelry and other offerings from the artists.
"This makes me feel like it's more authentic," said Penny Collins, an Atlanta computer technician who alighted earlier from the Carnival Destiny. "It would be a shame if they did away with it."
Diana Barber, a Georgia State University professor of hospitality, said meeting artists and artisans right on the streets was a bonus.
"I don't see it as a hazard," she said. "I could see it if they're aggressive, but they are not."
Dorothy Youniss, a retired tax accountant from University Park, Md., agreed.
"We like to see what local artists are doing," she said.
As Youniss spoke, Surett began working on a commissioned painting, unmindful of the yellow paint crusted on his right temple, while waiting for passersby to inquire about his many displayed pictures, all originals, available at $20 for the smallest and $300 or more for the largest.
"I just sit here; if they ask me questions, I answer them," Surett said of the tourists. "If they ban it, I won't come here. I'll just stop painting."