Despite support from several community leaders, the Marathon City Council denied a request from Cape Air for $17,000 of support to bring the service back to the airport next season.
Fishermen’s Hospital CEO Kim Bassett said since her company’s corporate office is in Naples, she was able to make trips for regular monthly meetings in a single day instead of multiple days of driving. Bassett pledged support for the airline not only in buying tickets but a commitment of financial support if the airline were to reinstate service for the 2009-2010 peak season. She added that in her travels, the staff always conveyed their business theme of MOCHA HAGoTDI (Making Our Customers Happy and Having a Good Time Doing It).
Cabana Breezes and Cabana Club owner April Tracy also added that she heard several guests praise the airline for their level of service last season.
“This is something we really need to get back in place and keep consistently,” Tracy said.
Mary Rice spoke on behalf of Orion Bank, saying that since the airline stopped service in April, bank employees and executives have sorely missed the ability to travel back and forth to their corporate offices also located in Naples. Rice said it was her guess that passengers on the flights were often half tourists and half locals, so the service has clearly been beneficial to the community.
Island Breeze Realty owner David Grego told the council it would be prudent to maintain consistency with the airline and help them to bring service back to the Middle Keys for another year. Support for the airline from the business community as well as the local government may encourage other businesses to set up shop in Marathon, Grego added.
Real estate broker Karen Wilkinson said though she agreed the community does need an airline, she didn’t feel it appropriate to subsidize an airline until a handful of planned resorts were on line and operational.
Councilman Pete Worthington, who voted in support of the airline, questioned Cape Air’s marketing of Marathon as a departure for Lower Keys residents and travelers who were likely booking flights out of Key West.
“I think $17,000 is a reasonable number to subsidize and help keep us going,” Worthington said.
“Maybe people in the Lower Keys don’t know service is available up here.”
Councilwoman Ginger Snead also questioned the airline’s commitment to marketing Marathon.
“In your presentation, I saw a plane with Key West painted on it,” Snead told the airline’s marketing director. “Do you have a plane that says Marathon on it?”
She also voiced frustration in committing financial support for an airline operating out of a facility in which the “County won’t let us have any say in.”
“I think it’s great to have an airline, but there are issues that need to be ironed out first,” Snead said.
Councilman Dick Ramsay said after having spoken with airline officials, he was displeased with their inability to commit to continued service following a two-year trial period. He also added that as the city is looking to establish a customs and immigration office as an official port of entry for international travelers, he couldn’t see putting up any extra money to subsidize Cape Air.
“Right now, with the budget crunch we have and the movement towards Customs and Immigration, I just don’t think I can support this,” Ramsay said.
Councilman Don Vasil expressed strong opposition to government subsidies for business.
“We are fighting a very difficult budget season, and we’ve got to come up with a budget that will be acceptable to the community,” Vasil said.
Mayor Mike Cinque supported Worthington’s motion to help fund the airline, but the motion failed.
In other business:
• The Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce previewed a promotional marketing video that will be distributed across the country to help bring more tourists to the Middle Keys.
Executive Director Daniel Samess said the video can be edited over time and besides distribution to national and international organizations, it will also be posted on YouTube.
• City Attorney Jimmy Morales clarified terms of the council’s online auctioning of the Boot Key Bridge center span. Morales also updated the council on the Knight’s Key proceedings. After waiting patiently for the property owners to turn a parcel of land necessary to build a treatment plant for the wastewater and sewer system, Morales reported that the lead bank for the property owners had been seized and closed by the federal government.
“There is no idea what the timetable could be now,” Morales said.
• City Manager Clyde Burnett reported that William Scotsman Inc. was standing firm in their lease agreement for the trailers they currently rent the city for their administrative offices. In the July 14 meeting, staff requested council approve the two-year agreement at a cost of $63,000. To purchase the trailers, the city would have to fork over $289,750, so council directed staff to work out terms on a one and two-year lease option.
• Council renewed a six-month lease on units at Jolly Roger Trailer Park on Grassy Key for fire service personnel and equipment.
• City and county legal staff are continuing to work on the terms of an interlocal agreement to fine unlicensed contractors operating without proper credentials. Cinque said Commissioner Mario Di Gennaro has assured him the county “wants to move forward with this.”