Thousands of garbed revelers participate in the Fantasy Fest Masquerade March Friday, Oct. 28, 2011, in Key West, Fla. The annual 10-day Fantasy Fest costuming and masking festival, that ends Sunday, Oct. 30, is to be highlighted by a Saturday, Oct. 29, parade down Duval Street, Key West's main drag. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

No nudity. No Fantasy Zone. Fines for inappropriate body-painting. “Family hours” during which inappropriate costumes are prohibited. More widespread economic benefits to businesses islandwide. Increase the focus on culture, history and natural resources of Key West.

Key West’s annual Fantasy Fest is about to change.

City leaders decided at a December 2021 Leadership Retreat they want to “transform the event into a positive, clean festival enjoyed by both residents and visitors.”

More recently, at the April 5 city commission meeting, officials authorized City Manager Patti McLauchlin to negotiate a new contract with the Tourist Development Association, which produces Fantasy Fest. (The TDA is the association that produces Fantasy Fest. It is not to be confused with the Monroe County Tourist Development Council, or TDC, a county government agency that uses bed tax dollars collected by hotels and lodging establishments to promote Key West tourism and fund large-scale projects and improvements that will benefit tourism.)

The April 5 agenda item initially directed McLauchlin to negotiate a one-year contract with the TDA, but TDA president Steve Robbins, and Key West Chamber of Commerce director Robert Goltz told the commission that events the size and scale of Fantasy Fest require multi-year contracts because producers negotiate multi-year agreements with sponsors.

The commission voted unanimously on April 5 to leave the contract length up to McLauchlin.

Goltz had suggested a three-year contract with two one-year renewal options, but no details have been finalized.

Festival Director Nadene Grossman Orr met on April 12 with McLauchlin, and said the city manager understands the TDA’s need for a multi-year contract.

“There will be some changes to Fantasy Fest and we’re amenable to that,” Grossman Orr told the Keys Weekly. “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 street fair was canceled last year due to COVID concerns, and 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, “Nudity is illegal. We always emphasize creative costuming. As usual, it boils down to enforcement,” Grossman Orr said, adding that 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. “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 in order 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.

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.