POWERBOAT RACES: Has The City Been Taken For A Ride?

We need to be nicer to the Super Boat International race organizer, John Carbonell:  Give him special privileges over at the Truman Waterfront, a 5 year agreement, free hotel rooms, etc or else he will just move his whole operation to Sarasota or Clearwater.

Everyone in Key West knows about the infamous Sarasota bid to hijack the world championship powerboat races.  Everybody in Key West – but strangely enough, it seems no one in Sarasota has ever heard about it.  According to City of Sarasota Public Information Officer, Jan Thornburg, who responded to a Blue Paper request for information, “The City of Sarasota did not put in a bid or enter into talks with race organizers to host the 2014 Super Boat International World Championship Powerboat Races.”

Now that’s interesting because Carbonell had announced intense negotiations with Sarasota and Clearwater, “I don’t just want something that is going to tie me to Key West for five years,” Carbonell told the Key West Citizen on October 22, 2013.  “I need to know what all three cities have to offer.  I want something that is conducive to myself and the racers as well.”

Pretty strange considering that the City of Sarasota clearly informed us that they had never made a bid nor spoken to anyone about it.  It get’s better.  On November 25, 2013, Carbonell announced, again via a Key West Citizen article, ”The City of Sarasota has withdrawn its request to take over the annual powerboat world championships … but on Sunday it still remained uncertain if the races will stay here.”

Carbonell explained that he was still in negotiations with the City of Clearwater.  As of press time, the City of Clearwater has not yet sent us a definitive response to our inquiry, which was forwarded to Brian Craig, Events Coordinator for Clearwater’s Parks and Recreation Department.  Craig has so far responded with, “no correspondence or records matching the request from the Events & Athletic section of the P&R.”  One would think the “events coordinator” for the City of Clearwater would be in the loop regarding a powerboat championship event being negotiated for Clearwater.

So, what’s going on?  Was all the hype about the powerboat races leaving town all made up?  Who knows, but it certainly got the attention of the City.

By October 31, 2013 Commissioner Mark Rossi was telling the Citizen, “We’re in negotiations with John [Carbonell] now.  This is an ongoing endeavor.  John’s going to entertain other invitations from other venues.  He has given me his word he will bring the offers back to the City of Key West.”  Rossi added, “this would be a tremendous economic blow to the City of Key West.” And to that Carbonell added,  “we won’t take it away from Key West unless we have to.  I am weighing several different options.”

Commissioner Rossi was chosen to be the special liaison and has been negotiating a “secret deal” with SBI race organizers.  The TDC is pressed to pay more than the $100,000 grant offered to Carbonell for 2014 and hotel owners have been castigated publicly for not offering more free rooms for powerboat race participants. Amazingly enough, the City has even considered redesigning its plans for the Truman Waterfront again, this time to accommodate Mr. Carbonell’s boat races.

A confidential source told The Blue Paper that he believes Carbonell is trying to sell his powerboat racing company (Super Boats International).  Might he also be trying to extract an advantageous 5-year deal at the Truman Waterfront to boost the value of his business?

The history of the Truman Waterfront Park is made up of a succession of uncertain business deals:  the assisted living facility, the exclusive marina, the amphitheater, and now the powerboat races.

Fortunately some commissioners seem to have run out of patience when it comes to redesigning Truman Waterfront.  Last November Commissioner Mark Rossi said he was fed up with talk about “grandiose crapola” with no action. “All we do is talk, talk, talk about this.  Put a field down there so kids can play, and a couple of benches.  Seriously, we can grow our own palm trees. Go down there and plant that park and get it done.”

We spoke to Naval Air Station Key West business manager, Ron Demes, who has long been involved in all aspects of the Navy’s transfer of the Truman Waterfront Park to the City.

“It bothers me,” he said, “that 13 years from the transfer we still have a dust bowl out there… I would enjoy a world-class park, a place to truly enjoy being warm in the Florida Keys, a peaceful place to go to great events.  Anything that involves food.  I’m in.”

Amen to that.