Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Outlook: A young city starts to grow up

MARATHON -- When asked about the biggest issues facing Marathon in 2013, City Manager Roger Hernstadt said the Jan. 17 meeting to discuss the town's Capital Improvement Plan was near the top of his list.

"It's going to be a very important meeting to develop a plan of action going forward for the next several years," he said. Items to consider in that plan include a new City Hall, a fire station at the west end of town and a community hall, among other projects.

Hernstadt sees development as another significant issue for the new year.

"We're starting to see building plans come in and we've approved six development agreements," he said. "Hopefully, two or three hotels will start building soon."

The city will begin distributing 100 hotel room allocations in 2013.

"The amount given out will be about 60 to 65, initially," Hernstadt said, "possibly as early as the second [City Council] meeting in January."

Now that the city has virtually completed its centralized wastewater system, more attention will have to be given to maintenance, Hernstadt said.

"The city is in its teens and a lot of the work was done in its infancy," Hernstadt said. "Maintaining our assets will require more funding than it did in the past."

While Hernstadt expressed support for the effort to make the Florida Keys/Marathon Airport a port of entry for international travelers, he doesn't expect it to come to fruition for some time. Architectural drawings will need to be drawn up and approved through the Department of Homeland Security, both of which take a considerable amount of time.

"I don't think it's a 2013 issue," he said.

In closing, Hernstadt said, "While some think these things are drab, I'm extremely excited. We'll come back from our mini-vacation invigorated and ready to get back to work."

Daniel Samess, CEO of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, said he is looking forward to new development in Marathon. Referring to the 95-room Marriott planned at mile marker 49.5, formerly the Crystal Cove Resort, Samess expressed his full support.

"I want them to reach their goals and create more jobs," he said, "It will be a great boost for Marathon."

Unlike Hernstadt, Samess said he expects the biggest issue facing the city in 2013 to be "moving forward and completing the port of entry." "The numbers are compelling," he said, referring to an economic impact study performed by professor Manual Santos from the University of Miami in May 2012.

The study estimates that a Marathon port of entry would provide a $38 million boost to the city's annual production, a $9.6 million increase in household earnings and create 346.5 permanent jobs. The study indicates that new workers would require services such as schools and health centers. It seems to suggest workers would not be current residents of Marathon who already require those services, but rather people who move to the area because of employment opportunities.

Samess acknowledged that "DHS has a lot of layers" and completion of the project will require a lot of time and careful coordination between the city and the federal government, but he'd like to see it as "a completed goal for 2013."

Referring to Marathon's wastewater efforts, Samess said, "I'm proud of the city for taking the leap and getting started on an unfunded mandate. The next goal is to receive our portion of the $50 million in funding to pay down our debt," he said. The town wants a cut of the state's Mayfield grant money to repay some of the money borrowed for sewer construction.

When asked his opinion regarding the need for a new City Hall, Samess suggested an amenity that could benefit the town.

"The city already has a lot of major infrastructure in place, but what it doesn't have is convention space for corporate retreats for small and middle-sized businesses," Samess said, explaining that he would like a new City Hall to have plenty of conference space to draw businesses to town, resulting in "heads in beds."

Samess finds the proposal for a new City Hall "an encouraging idea, as we progress from a young city to a middle-aged city. It's a matter of pride."

Lastly, Samess sees the addition of new attractions and large-scale events as an important issue for Marathon in the new year. Specifically, he mentioned the Crane Point zip line project as a positive way to add another attraction and increase tourism. He'd also like to see more events on the same scale as the annual seafood festival, which draws more than 20,000 people to the Middle Keys.

"Marathon needs new attractions and bigger events," he said.

Mayor Mike Cinque, Vice Mayor Richard Keating and Councilwoman Ginger Snead were asked to share their views regarding issues facing Marathon in 2013, but none returned phone calls before press time.

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