Florida Keys News
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Thinking out of the water
Underwater hotel could give colorful views

Hundreds of thousands of scuba divers flock to the Florida Keys each year to see tropical fish, sharks and other colorful marine life.

Key West-based businessman Tony Webb wants to give that same experience to visitors, but his plan would not require them to leave the comfort of their own room, or in this case "pod," to enjoy the underwater view.

Webb has designed and proposed a 12-unit underwater hotel/research center to be placed at a depth of 28 feet, he said. The pods are connected by a long main hallway and would be accessed from the surface by an elevator shaft that would also be used to pump in oxygen, electricity and other utilities.

The pods, with thick acrylic windows, are made out of steel. They would be brought to the Keys by barge and welded together on site, Webb said.

The 42,000 cubic feet hotel/research center would be fastened or anchored to the bottom on private property or bay bottom, he said.

"It is well thought out and well designed," he said proudly. "It will be similar to the International Space Station."

Webb has yet to chose an exact location in the Florida Keys for the hotel, but believes the unincorporated area of Monroe County would make a perfect location.

Webb would not release too many details on the project as he appeared concerned about possible competitors stealing his ideas.

The projected cost of the project is $8 million, and Webb is currently soliciting investors, he said. To help raise funds, he is prebooking hotel rooms at a rate of roughly $1,500 a night, according to Webb's web page, planetoceanunderwaterhotel.com.

The money would be placed in an escrow account and would be used to help secure banks loans to cover construction and design costs, he said.

Webb has partnered with Paul Patterson, who is a certified home and building inspector in the Keys.

Patterson will oversee the planning aspects and will work with local, state and federal permitting agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and county and state building officials.

Patterson has yet to apply for the necessary permits, but plans to meet soon with the Monroe County administrator and county head of growth management to discuss the project, he said.

The project could benefit visiting marine biologists and researchers, while giving disabled children, veterans and others access to marine life, Patterson said.

"We don't do enough to give the disabled access to the beaches and waters," he said.

If successful, Webb has plans to place similar underwater hotels in other locations in the Caribbean and Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

For nformation, go to www.planetoceanunderwaterhotel.com.

tohara@keysnews.com

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