Organizers plan to talk to other Florida cities before making any decision about signing a five-year agreement to keep the powerboat races in the Southernmost City.
The Key West World Powerboat Championship has been held here for 33 years, but founder John Carbonell is talking to leaders in Sarasota and Clearwater about moving the races to one of those towns, he said.
Following a meeting last week with Carbonell to discuss logistics of this year's event, Key West commissioners directed staff to negotiate a deal to keep the races here. However, Carbonell wants "something attached to it," but declined to tell The Citizen exactly what he wants.
"I don't just want something that is going to tie me to Key West for five years," Carbonell said. "I need to know what all three cities have to offer. I want something that is conducive to myself and the racers as well."
After this year's event, which takes place Nov. 3-10, Carbonell and his crew plan to meet with the leaders of all three cities to determine what is in the best long-term interest of the races, Carbonell said.
"We are still in the midst of this year's event," Carbonell said. "Right now, I just want to get through this year's races. I will announce something as soon as I can. I want this resolved."
Carbonell cited declining revenues and reduced sponsorships for the event as a reason to look elsewhere. He has had to haggle with many of the hoteliers to get free rooms for boat race event staff, and some businesses that benefit from the influx of visitors are not willing to pitch in to make the races happen, he said.
Also, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council recently decided to reduce its funding of next year's races by $20,000, going from $120,000 to $100,000, Carbonell said.
During last year's races, Key West hotels were operating at between 70 to 98 percent occupancy levels. Tourist Development Council records indicate hotel revenue was $7.2 million during that week, but staff could not attribute all of the occupancy directly to the boat races, they said.
The races bring in 30,000 people from outside of the Keys, according to the organizers' application for Tourist Development Council funding.
"It's a great event, and we want to keep it," Tourist Development Council Director Harold Wheeler said. "It's one of Key West's signature events."
"This would be a huge economic loss," City Commissioner Mark Rossi said of the races, one of the city's most profitable and longest-standing events.
Mayor Craig Cates called the races a locals' favorite.
"I'm hoping it stays," Cates said. "The city is behind them. The hotels, bars and restaurants need to chip in as well. I know John (Carbonell) wants to keep it here."