Artists Wyland and Guy Harvey’s “Whaling Wall #87 - Florida’s Radiant Reef” will be preserved in its entirety. ALEX RICKERT/Keys Weekly

A standing-room-only crowd at the Marathon City Council’s Nov. 14 meeting found their concerns assuaged within minutes. Opening as one of the meeting’s first topics, beachwear retailer SurfStyle announced a pivot in its plans for Marathon’s former Kmart building – and pledged to preserve the iconic Wyland and Guy Harvey mural “Whaling Wall #87.” 

The mural originally was slated to be partially demolished to create a new doorway and otherwise covered with new graphic metal panels. But SurfStyle managing partner Gilad Ovaknin said the company would change course following two weeks of public contact and pressure.

“The Wyland mural is going to remain untouched,” said Ovaknin, prompting loud applause. “Hearing the strong sentiment of the public, and not only hearing but understanding that this has value as public art that has been here for 30 years, we understand that we made a mistake.”

“Sometimes the newest and the biggest is not necessarily the best, and we are all about bringing content and value to the area, so we’re going to go back to our drawing boards and redesign the elevation to incorporate the existing mural and expand the remainder of the facade,” he said. “We did not act because of the pressure, we acted because (the community’s) approach was the right approach.”

“I just want to confirm that the current mural will be preserved intact, in place, as is,” said Mary Stella, co-author of an online petition to save the mural that had garnered more than 6,000 signatures as of Wednesday morning. “I applaud that, and I truly believe that this will help to make your business in this community a success,” she added upon Ovaknin’s confirmation. 

“I’m responsible for bringing that wall to Marathon 30-some-odd years ago,” said Dolphin Research Center COO Mandy Rodriguez. “I just spoke to Wyland and Guy Harvey a few minutes ago, and I thank you. We will be behind you 100%.”

“I appreciate everyone and the effort to protect the public art,” Wyland told the Weekly in a text message following the decision. “I believe the mural could be a major asset to whatever business decides to move in there. I love our Keys community and Marathon.”

Quay property headed for more discussion

Admitting that, as he was on the losing end of a previous vote, it was not within his power to move for reconsideration of the council’s direction to staff regarding a redesign of the Quay property at its Oct. 24 workshop, councilman Luis Gonzalez asked Vice Mayor Lynn Landry and councilmen Jeff Smith and Kenny Matlock to reopen discussions regarding direction for the property.

“Emotions were tested, and probably got the better of me,” he said. “Since that meeting, the community outcry has been overwhelming.”

Though talks at the October workshop pointed toward a partial pivot in the property’s direction from its initial park concept, Landry clarified that his intention, and that of his fellow councilmen, was never to eschew the park concept in favor of an additional boat ramp, but rather to reimagine the area with a new park that simultaneously alleviated boat trailer congestion with an additional or widened ramp.

“We just gave direction to staff to put a pause on it and let us know if it’s possible,” Landry said. “I’d like to see the data and then open it up for discussion. Once staff has some data for us, we’re obviously going to debate it again, I’m sure.”

With unanimous approval following a motion by Landry, the council elected to revisit the topic following a more detailed presentation from city staff at its January meeting.

Code update zeroes in on vacation rental compliance

Code Director Ted Lozier provided an updated code compliance report. With 225 additional vacation rentals in the city in the last year, Lozier said the city has initiated 128 code cases for vacation rental violations since January, 83 of which went to a hearing with special magistrate Jeff Vastola. The majority, he said, concerned lapsed licenses and prohibited short-term rentals of less than seven days. The department has also initiated more than 250 trash service violations in 2023.

“I think the community deserves to see how much work is being put forth in this,” said Smith. “We have over a 300% increase in our code cases. … And the purpose of code is obviously just to get compliance.”

Matlock again raised concerns with the lack of a code department cell phone contact on the city’s website for after-hours and weekend incidents, to which City Manager George Garrett replied that the number would be added with additional direction to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office for late-night complaints.

In Other News:

  • Former Vice Mayor Robyn Still will serve as Marathon’s mayor for 2023-24, with Landry to serve as vice mayor. Both were the only candidates nominated and were approved unanimously.
  • With the council’s November and December workshop meetings canceled due to the holidays, Still said that among other items, she would like to see a council workshop scheduled in 2024 to outline the responsibilities and capabilities of both the city council and individual city departments.
  • Unanimously approved at its second public hearing, ordinance 2023-20 adds, among other items, a new tow-away zone along the right-of-way of 25th Street. Parking concerns in the area have been an extensive bone of contention between local businesses and the Townhomes of Sister Creek, a development on the street’s west side.
  • Also unanimously approved at its second reading, ordinance 2023-21 amends the city’s First Time Homebuyer assistance program to extend eligibility to those currently living in multifamily affordable homes built by Habitat for Humanity.
Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.