Let’s talk tourism in Key West

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the city.

Lobster mini season is winding down and was pretty successful.

Johnston said, “A lot of people enjoyed the Florida Keys, some of them for the very first time. This is always good for our lodging and our guest homes and vacation rentals. This is really good for those types of markets, also our restaurant market. We always debate lobster mini season every year when it comes up, because it somewhat conflicts, the commercial fishermen and in our residential lobster individuals. It’s always a debate we have, but we still feel that it’s beneficial for the community and for the area. So we try and make it safer every year. We try and certainly make sure that everyone knows the rules and regulations, because I think that’s the biggest thing. We have people who come down and do not abide by our rules. So Fish and Wildlife and the sheriff and our police department and everyone else involved has their hands full for a few days, but we get through it every year.”

Johnston will be speaking at the FLOCC Tourism Conference in Tampa tomorrow.

She said, “It’s always an opportunity to talk about Key West and what we have to offer. Because most people know that we have Duval Street and we have nightlife, but many people don’t know that we’re one of the largest wood frame historic districts in the United States and that we have eco tourism, and that we have incredible art throughout our community. We have some of the finest live musicians in the United States. So it gives me an opportunity to talk about the other things that people don’t normally see as you think about Key West. We’re getting a lot of cultural tourism at this point and it brings in a different type of tourists. They frequent small theater and they go to the literary seminars. It’s a little different type of tourism and certainly we want to continue to support the arts, as well as, our nearshore waters and our diving and our fishing and everything that we have to offer because there’s very few tourist destinations that can offer the array of experiences that we can in the city of Key West.”

The arts really are what brought Key West back from bankruptcy a few decades ago.

Johnston said, “Whenever I talk about tourism in the city of Key West, I talk about the responsibility of our guests, and that we live on an environmentally sensitive Island and in order to have this island intact and as exciting as it is for everybody who’s joining us today, we want it to be that exciting and well-cared for, for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to be very respectful of our island. Most people do, a few people forget, so I every time I speak, I remind people that, we were a community well before we were a tourist destination. We need to make sure that people understand that there are 26,000 of us who live here and call this our home and that’s the balance that that I focus on every single day, as well as the City Commission, is making sure that we have a vibrant economy, but also making sure that we have a quality of life for people who have chosen to make Key West their home, whether it’s for a year or for multi generations.”

It is budget time for the city.

Johnston said, “Our city manager Al Childress made a commitment when he came to the city of Key West that he was not going to raise the millage rate. So he has had over 65 meetings with staff, along with our Director of Finance and they have whittled down our budget. They’ve made sure that we’re efficient, we’re lean, we’re effective, we’re providing the goods and services that people expect. We’re raising salaries that are competitive in the marketplace, but he has worked very hard on taking the fat out of our budget. This was our first budget pass and we came in at the same millage rate as we came in before and that recognizes a 13.5% increase in services in our police department. It recognizes over a 12% increase in our fire department. So a heavy emphasis on our safety of our community, but also it recognizes the fact that we need to work on sea level rise, and we’ve got a number of projects there. We’re doing infrastructure with our streets and roads. We’re doing some major projects at the southern most buoy and at Mallory Square and on Duval Street. So we’re continuing to improve the environment while taking really good care of our residents money, taxpayer money,”

No increase in the millage rate should be welcome.

Johnston said, “Definitely in these times where things just continue to go up. We had we had an unprecedented $4 million in our streets and sidewalks budget. We have never spent that in the history of Key West. Well, United Street alone is costing us $5 million to repave and redo and that’s adding sidewalks, curb and gutters, some landscaping, but to do it correctly. So prices have just skyrocketed.”