Key West is poised to approve final sale of the land beneath a resort and spa at the foot of Duval Street, potentially bringing years of debate over the matter to a close.
City commissioners will decide tonight whether to sell land beneath the Pier House Resort and Caribbean Spa for $7.5 million to the resort's owners, whose $3,600 per year lease on the property -- in place through 2020 -- would end.
Commissioners will also vote on the final version of the city's budget, which for now calls for a 3 percent increase in property taxes. At least one member of the commission will attempt to eliminate the increase, however.
One item on the agenda for the meeting, a presentation from the Key West Chamber of Commerce in support of a study on widening a portion of the Main Ship Channel, has been scrapped. The presentation will be made at a future time, said Chamber Executive Vice President Virginia Panico.
The budget and Pier House discussions will take place with only five of the commission's seven members present. Jimmy Weekley and Mark Rossi are both vacationing.
The Pier House item could generate a good deal of discussion at the meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at Old City Hall on Greene Street.
One commissioner, Billy Wardlow, has indicated he is opposed to the sale at this time, and has said it is in the city's best interest to hold off.
"I would rather for that price we hold on to it for the remainder of the lease and then sell it when the lease expires," Wardlow said. "If we do that it is going to give us one block, a whole piece of property. The city could get more out of it. Right now the city is not in as dire need for the money and I would rather wait and see what happens."
Voters approved the sale of the property in 2010, "pursuant to an appraisal and a sealed competitive bid process."
The ballot item voters approved authorized the city to sell the property "upon terms and conditions in the best interest of the city."
The Pier House owners made an initial offer of $6.3 million, but city staffers researched the market and found that appraisals for the property were as high as $7 million.
Commissioner Tony Yaniz said he would approve a sale, but for $7.5 million. Mayor Craig Cates has also indicated he would let the property go now for that price.
That leaves commissioners Teri Johnston and Clayton Lopez as potential swing votes.
On the budget approval, commissioners are being asked to approve a millage rate of $2.9471 per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed rate of 2.9471 is 3 percent over the calculated rollback rate of 2.8613.
Highlights of the budget discussion include a projected loss of $418,000 to the city related to fewer cruise ship arrivals. The city will also be paying $418,000 for its lease on office space at Habana Plaza, being used while plans for a new City Hall are reviewed, discussed and voted on.
Cates plans to ask for a "reserve day" -- the money kept in reserve to keep the city operating in the event of an emergency -- to help pay for his proposal of no tax increase at all.
"I am going to ask for no increase again," said Cates, who said he is confident other commissioners will approve his plan.