Irma, COVID-19, dengue fever, murder hornets, and whatever else comes our way has nothing on what’s happening in our islands of Marathon. Marathon has been growing and improving since Wilma, but things have exponentially picked up over the past few years.

There will always be debates on both sides (rightfully so) on our community’s growth, but what is so impressive to me isn’t just the growth, but the improvements. Specifically, replacing old infrastructure with new and improved facilities that will better serve our businesses, community, and visitors; while also hardening our buildings with newer construction that enhances our U.S.1 corridor — truly creating a win-win for all of us.

Our small islands are seeing multiple projects, each of which will have positive effects on multiple levels.

First and foremost is our local Fishermen’s Community Hospital (FCH). Having a hospital is crucial to a community’s health (pun intended). It allows quick access to health care for locals and visitors, many high-paying jobs, as well as sustaining/increasing property values. Moreover, our FCH is being completely rebuilt by  Baptist Health South Florida, along with our local Hospital Foundation board (chaired by my good friend Mike Leonard). It’s a $40 million investment, with $15 million coming from local philanthropic support via the foundation. Baptist estimates the construction alone has created more than 500 jobs; and when our new hospital is fully open and operational, it will have created over 100 quality jobs.

Another asset seeing vast improvements: Stanley Switlik Elementary School. A $32 million renovation to improve, enhance and harden the Switlik campus and facility is almost complete. The new buildings will all be well above flood, have category 5 storm wind ratings, and have the latest mandated security measures to better protect our children and school staff. Of course, education is crucial to a community’s success and quality of life.

Next on the list, and adjacent to the school, is the new Marathon library, which is operated and owned by Monroe County. The state-of-the-art library is a $7.2 million investment in Marathon. Again, it puts contractors, sub-contractors, and many other tradesmen to work in our community. Libraries can have a big impact on the economy. A recent return on investment (ROI) study conducted by the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida, reports that for every $1 Floridians invest into Florida public libraries, they receive $10.18 in economic return. This means the $7.2 million of public/county money invested into Marathon’s new library will yield a ROI of about $73 million to Marathon and Middle Keys residents, students, etc. in economic value.

While Marathon has seen a resurgence in resorts since the recession, some additional units were also recently approved by the City of Marathon Council.  The longtime defunct Crystal Cove Resort is finally under construction and will soon feature a 46-room hotel. Our Holiday Inn Express is transitioning to a Fairfield Inn & Suites (part of the Marriott family), and is adding 27 suites on the water side of their property.  Lastly, our newest accommodation, Isla Bella Beach Resort has also received approval to add about 102 rooms onto their property. Build-out costs for just these three additions easily exceeds $20 million. The additional visitors also equate to increased visitor spending within our community, benefiting both our local businesses, their staff, as well as our city and county that will derive revenue via sales and bed tax collections.

While Marathon has seen a resurgence in resorts since the recession, some additional units were also recently approved by the City of Marathon Council.  The longtime defunct Crystal Cove Resort is finally under construction and will soon feature a 46-room hotel. Our Holiday Inn Express is transitioning to a Fairfield Inn & Suites (part of the Marriott family), and is adding 27 suites on the water side of their property.  Lastly, our newest accommodation, Isla Bella Beach Resort has also received approval to add about 102 rooms onto their property. Build-out costs for just these three additions easily exceeds $20 million. The additional visitors also equate to increased visitor spending within our community, benefiting both our local businesses, their staff, as well as our city and county that will derive revenue via sales and bed tax collections.

Last and arguably most important, are the many workforce housing projects that have been approved by Marathon City Council. We actually have a few that are currently under construction and a few that have been completed (we applaud you St. Columba, Seaward Landing, etc.). One that you cannot miss driving through the center of Marathon is off of 48th St (gulf side), which will consist of 101 two-bedroom units. In addition, local broker and developer Brian Schmitt has approvals for two more housing developments in the Coco Plum area, which will total 124 units, of which 15 will be reserved for essential personnel (fire fighters, law enforcement, etc.). These three housing projects, as well as the ones by St. Columba and Peter Rosasco’s Seaward Landing, have estimated construction costs totaling about $60 million, and will add about 286 new units for those in our local workforce. That’s quite an accomplishment for our small community that has consistently always had a large workforce housing deficit. Businesses will be able to hire from a bigger pool of applicants, and applicants will be able to enjoy rent-stable housing that encourages them to stay in the area. Eventually some will move into market rate rentals or purchase homes. Ultimately we need to reduce the transiency of our workforce; by building new, additional workforce housing we can reduce the turnover that vastly affects our businesses and employers.

Marathon is experiencing a building boom most haven’t seen here in decades, since Phil Sadowski, Allen Schmitt, and other developers and visionaries helped to shape our Middle Keys community.  I choose to embrace these projects as they are injecting hundreds of millions of dollars (est. $159.2 million) in capital, jobs, property tax revenue, housing for our workforce, as well as better construction that meets the latest and greatest building codes. Cheers are due to the City of Marathon. There’s a healthy, successful and bright future ahead. 

Respectfully,
Daniel Samess, CEO
Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce

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