KEY WEST OFFICIALS TALK FANTASY FEST

Revelers embrace the 2019 Fantasy Fest theme of “In Tune…But Off Key.” The 2022 theme is “Cult Classics & Cartoon Chaos.” CAROL TEDESCO/Florida Keys New Bureau

Fantasy Fest will continue under the direction of its founders and current producers, the Key West Tourist Development Association, for the next three years, if officials approve a new agreement on Tuesday, June 21.  

The upcoming city commission agenda includes a proposed three-year agreement with the TDA (not to be confused with the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, or TDC, a division of county government that markets the Florida Keys as a tourism destination).

The agreement outlines specific events to be included in the Fantasy Fest celebration, along with the requirements for police officers, insurance coverage, trash receptacles, portable restrooms and other necessities. It states that a Masquerade March will take place Friday evening, the night before the parade, and the parade will take place on Saturday night. A street fair will not be part of the week-long event in 2022.

Other than insurance requirements and payment for city services, the agreement does not specify any changes to the festival, which were discussed at length during a December 2021 Leadership Retreat, where city officials decided they want to “transform the event into a positive, clean festival enjoyed by both residents and visitors.”

The changes proposed in December 2021 included: No nudity, no Fantasy Zone, fines for inappropriate body-painting and designated “family hours” during which inappropriate costumes are prohibited. The 2021 discussion also called for “more widespread economic benefits to businesses islandwide” and an increased focus on “culture, history and natural resources of Key West.”

In April 2022, commissioners directed City Manager Patti McLauchlin to negotiate a new contract with the Tourist Development Association, which produces Fantasy Fest. That new, three-year agreement will be discussed at Tuesday’s commission meeting.

“There will be some changes to Fantasy Fest and we’re amenable to that,” festival director Nadene Grossman Orr told the Keys Weekly in April 2022. “There will definitely be a parade and a Masquerade March. Canceling the street fair on Duval Street is under consideration, but has not been officially voted on yet by the TDA board.”

The new agreement does not mention a street fair, which was canceled last year due to COVID concerns. Many Duval Street business owners said they appreciated its absence, as it tends to keep people off the sidewalks and out of their businesses while they peruse the vendor booths in the street. 

As for nudity, Grossman said in April, “Nudity is illegal. We always emphasize creative costuming. As usual, it boils down to enforcement.” She added, “there’s an unusual perception out there” that the TDA markets Fantasy Fest as a nudity-welcome event to people who participate in such events elsewhere. 

“There is zero marketing to target that market,” Grossman Orr said in April. “All of our materials emphasize Fantasy Fest as a creative, costumed event. We market to next-generation festival goers, and to like-minded, affluent people who like music, art and costuming events.”

She said what the event really needs to bring about the desired transformation is participation.

“We challenge the city and the county and any individuals, businesses and government agencies with the means and the space to build floats and participate in the parade,” she said two months ago.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.