Florida Keys News
Thursday, January 2, 2014
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Hotels, new entry to city a positive impact
Officials hope to spawn some growth

Development figures to be in the forefront of Middle Keys issues during 2014, local officials say.

Two hotels flying the Marriott and Hyatt flags are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Construction of a new city hall should also be underway.

Local officials also expect completion of port-of-entry status for the Florida Keys Marathon Airport to have a positive impact this year as it will provide the only check-in destination for international travelers between Key West and Miami.

Monroe County Commissioner David Rice, who has been working on that effort, says the new status will spawn growth for the area. It should be wrapped up by the end of December, barring any permitting delays from federal agencies, he said.

Also on the agenda for Rice is finding a new home for the Marathon Public Library. He expects the commission to hammer out a deal by the end of the year.

"It doesn't sit well with me that young students have to walk across U.S. 1 to get to the library," Rice said.

The commissioner said partnering with the school district on a dual-use facility would likely be the most favorable option.

Still to be finalized in Marathon is a deal to keep the Old Seven Mile Bridge open and maintained. A tentative agreement has received support from the city, the county and Florida Department of Transportation officials.

According to the deal, the parties are to enter into a 30-year shared restoration plan. The agreement calls for Marathon to pay about $178,000 per year, roughly $5.3 million overall. Monroe County is set to pay $14.2 million and FDOT will handle the bulk of $57 million. The state road agency will also maintain ownership of the bridge.

Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay said he wants to focus on getting state grant money to pay down the city's sewer debt. Like Key Largo, Marathon borrowed money to pay for state-mandated sewage treatment upgrades. While Gov. Rick Scott says he plans to put $50 million in his budget for Keys' wastewater projects, he says the money can only go toward new projects.

Like Rice, Ramsay says he is also focused on completing the port-of-entry project by year's end.

"This is an entryway to having charter services to the Caribbean," Ramsay said. "And when Cuba opens up, we will be prepared."

Eventually, Ramsay said he would like to see commercial air service return to Marathon. Historically, though, airlines have tried and failed to run viable operations in the Middle Keys city.

As for a new city hall, Ramsay is calling for more involvement from the city's residents.

"We want to lay everything out and figure the best approach," he said.

Ramsay said he wants to see a facility that could seat 175 people. However, while the city has budgeted $5.5 million for the project, initial bids were more than $1 million higher.

Daniel Samess, director of the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, says the new year means he is focused once again on the Original Marathon Seafood Festival.

Samess says he is tasked with improving out-of-town attendance for the chamber's largest annual event. The festival is March 8 and 9.

Out-of-town attendance is attractive on applications for funding from the Monroe County Tourism Development Council, so Samess says he is busy marketing again this year.

jgore@keysnews.com

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