The topic of Fantasy Fest didn’t appear anywhere on the city commission agenda, but it dominated a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting about the safety of city-approved special events in light of increasingly dire COVID statistics.
To be clear, the city commission did NOT cancel Fantasy Fest or any other events during their meeting Tuesday evening. But the topic will be discussed and likely decided when the commission meets again on Sept. 1.
Mayor Teri Johnston directed business owners and event organizers to “come on Sept. 1 with solutions and suggestions about how to protect our residents, our workers and our visitors. Don’t just come in angry and ask us not to cancel events, because we WILL protect our community.
“Do we want to talk about requiring proof of vaccinations or a negative test?” Johnston asked. “Are those measures worth it to keep our service industry healthy?”
But Commissioner Greg Davila reminded his colleagues that Gov. Ron DeSantis has handcuffed cities by prohibiting such measures.
Mike Morawski, whose family owns the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, urged the commissioners to hold that meeting in the afternoon, “so our workers, who make their rent during these October events, can have their voices heard.”
Commissioners Billy Wardlow, Mary Lou Hoover, Sam Kaufman and Clayton Lopez all acknowledged that the city’s control over Fantasy Fest is limited to the three or four events it specifically permits on city streets, including the parade, street fair and Masquerade March.
“I know everyone’s concerned, but we’re late in the game here and the crowds are still gonna come to the hotels and to the events in private businesses. I’d like to see the city at least put signs back up encouraging masks,” Wardlow said.
Online forums and casual conversations have included suggestions that the parade route could be stretched to spread out crowds. The number of floats also could be limited to reduce the number of participants.
Lopez said he wanted to protect both the economy and the people of Key West, and urged the commission to act as soon as possible with their decisions.
“We are three to four times more affected now than we were at this time last year and we’re doing even less right to protect people,” Lopez said. “Last year we were shut down. Eventually there’s going to be hard decisions…. It’s all about our safety; that’s just the reality. But we also have to consider that we have no jurisdiction over most events on private property. There are also tremendous costs associated with putting on Fantasy Fest and we need to give people an answer.”
Speaking of costs…
Fantasy Fest producers under Nadene Grossman Orr received $120,000 in tourism funds to promote Fantasy Fest.
Tourist Development Council Director Stacey Mitchell told the Keys Weekly on Wednesday that event coordinators sign a contract agreeing to include a specific scope of services for each event. In the case of Fantasy Fest, that scope includes: a street fair; a Masquerade March, a Duval promenade and a parade, Mitchell said.
“If the city does not permit A,B,C and D to happen, then the organizers need to put in writing a request to reduce their scope of services,” Mitchell said, adding that the Key West District Advisory Committee for the TDC would consider the request on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
“They can either reduce the funding to reflect the reduced services, or they could also say, ‘Hey, we get it, these are extraordinary circumstances’ and keep the funding in place.
“Then whatever the DAC members decide will have to be approved by the full TDC board on Oct. 19.”
But before any of that happens, the city commission will get its say on Sept. 1.