"Sushi," portrayed by female impersonator Gary Marion, dangles high above New Year's Eve revelers in a giant reproduction of a woman's high heel at the Bourbon Street Pub late Friday, Dec. 31, 2010, in Key West, Fla. The Red Shoe Drop is a Key West tradition to herald the arrival of the new year, answering New York's Times Square ball drop. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

The Tourist Development Council’s district advisory council for District 1 (DAC1) has made its decision on funding approval for events in Key West. Ultimately, the council approved $983,000 worth of funding — $1,066,000 was originally allocated, and the remaining $83,000 will go toward the advertising budget. 

“The event managers and volunteers that put on the myriad events for Key West do a spectacular job in bringing tourists to Key West and to the county,” said Board Chair Clif Thompson. “It’s energizing for us to hear their presentations and then watch their results year after year.” 

The presentations are divided between “Destination” and “Turnkey” applications for events. Destination funding is given up front, and the organization must provide receipts for expenditures afterward. Turnkey refers to funding for events produced by outside parties, and the money is reimbursed after the event is complete.

The applications are scored based on criteria including primary purpose, timing of event, soundness of plan, financial commitment and action plan. Applicants are asked to request their funding level as well as project how many nights of hotel rooms will be required for attendees. 

The good news? Out of 28 applicants, 25 were approved for some funding. Funds are also more available this year. 

“Last year was not a good year for funding because of Irma,” said Thompson. “It impacted the money that we had, so last year we funded $762,000 of events, and this year we were able to increase to $983,000, which was very good for the event organizers.” 

New events that received funding included Mango Fest, The Mile Zero Fights and Pole Vault in Paradise. This is the second year for Pole Vault in Paradise, and it is a testament to demonstrating a draw and then applying for TDC funding. 

“Some (on the board) attended the first year and said it was awesome, so we’re looking forward to seeing them bring more people down to Key West,” said Thompson. 

This was also the first year that Race World Offshore was awarded money for the power boat races — to the tune of $150,000. That meant that Superboat International did not receive funding. While they both applied and made presentations, Thompson said, the board went with the organization that had already received approval of the city and Coast Guard. 

Events that were not approved for funding were the City of Key West 4th of July Fireworks Celebration and the Key West Fashion Extravaganza put on by Mystic Krewe of Key West. 

Why? 

“Well, the simple answer is: the board has to look at what event is going to increase occupancy in the hotels and vacation rental space. And if, in our opinion, there would be no increase, it would probably score very low,” said Thompson. 

The refrain from TDC when it comes to funding approval is “heads in beds,” and if there isn’t a compelling case that an event will increase tourism, it is likely to be denied funding. 

George Fernandez, vice chairperson of the TDC, said of denying funding: “It’s really unfortunate, but the issue is, they must meet the criteria.” He encouraged applicants to try again in following years, as other events have had success with subsequent applications. 

Thompson explained the difference between funding for, say New Year’s Eve vs. 4th of July Fireworks. 

“New Year’s Eve is an international event. The CNN coverage and so forth bring people down year-round. On July 4th, almost every city is going to have fireworks, and it doesn’t do enough to make it unique. There was an attempt to reclassify them to get them some funding, but that attempt failed.” 

Notable events that received top funding were: 

Fantasy Fest $150,000 

Key West Food and Wine Festival $50,000

Key West Half Marathon and 5k $75,000

Key West Holiday Fest $50,000

Key West Pride $50,000

Key West Songwriters Festival $150,000

Plenty of other events put on by locals, like the Kelly McGillis Classic Women’s Flag Football Championship, The Key Lime Festival and The Key West Paddle Classic, also received funding anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000. 

The county — and Key West — are well on the road to recovery from Irma in 2017. This year, the bed tax money for DAC1 is already over $17 million, while in all of 2018, the total was $19 million. 

“So this year is looking very good,” said Thompson, “and that means next year’s funding will be perhaps even better.” 

Board member Piper Smith, who is a veteran on the committee, said, “It’s nice to be able to fund so many events. … I’ve been on this committee for years, and there have been some lean years. It was tough. So it’s nice to be able to fund small events, along with Fantasy Fest and the Boat Races. We have a full calendar, and it’s wonderful.” 

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