by Arnaud and Naja Girard, July 3, 2014
Last Tuesday evening the Key West City Commission approved a five-year lease on a significant portion of the Truman Waterfront to Super Boat International Productions (SBI). SBI is a privately-owned, for-profit corporation based in Key West.
Lease terms were negotiated between former City Manager Bob Vitas and Charles Carbonell, president of SBI. The lease allows SBI to make use of a portion of the Truman Waterfront property for up to three weeks each year. A race village will occupy that land for about week, with a week on ether side for preparation and clean-up.
SBI was assisted during negotiations by a local-based Florida nonprofit organization known as Conch Republic Offshore Powerboat Racing Association (CROPRA). Several weeks ago the Truman Waterfront Advisory Board took up the proposed contract in order to make a recommendation to the City Commission. TWAB members voted to forward the contract to the City Commission, but withheld a positive recommendation due to concerns expressed by several citizens, most notably by Mayoral candidate Margaret Romero.
Newly-appointed Director of Port and Marina Services Doug Bradshaw brought the contract to the TWAB board, but he acknowledged that he was not involved in the negotiations. It appears that Vitas was the sole representative of the city to be involved in drafting the contract. On Tuesday, Interim City Attorney Larry Erskine and Interim City Manager Shawn Smith admitted that the Legal Department had no part in establishing terms, but that they did take the draft agreement and modified it to be in proper legal form. The lease names the Key West City Manager, the Assistant City Manager for Operations, and the Director of Port and Marine Services as the key points of contact for the agreement. The Assistant City Manager position was abolished when David Fernandez retired recently.
SBI is an event production company that produces races for this class of high-performance, high-speed racing companies, much as NASCAR does for automobile racing. SBI is conducting eleven such races in 2014. The racing season runs from April until December and it culminates in November with the SBI Championship races in Key West.
SBI and CROPRA argue that the Superboat Championships are second only to Fantasy Fest in the economic benefit it brings to Key West. The chair of CROPRA, Larry Bliel, mentioned a figure of $ 30 million as the amount of that benefit. Bliel is an employee of the Spottswood Companies, and two other CROPRA officers are also members of that firm. City Commissioner Mark Rossi and former Commissioner Barry Gibson are also members of the board of CROPRA.
City leaders fell into a mild panic after last year’s race when SBI owner and President Charles Carbonell suggested that he might move the Championhip Races to another City unless Key West was willing to make a financial commitment to support the event, including a five year lease for use of the Truman Waterfront for as much as three weeks during early November. However, the Commission directed the City Manager to secure an agreement with SBI and he apparently did so at the end of 2013. The five-year lease that was approved by the Commission on Tuesday should have reflected the agreement and established terms and conditions.
Director Bradshaw explained the expenses that fall upon the city. These expenses are estimated to be $ 60,000 in 2014. SBI is obligated to pay the city for expenses incurred for items such as police and fire coverage but the amount of that reimbursement is capped at $ 35,000 for the current year. Commissioner Teri Johnston opined that the event does create a significant economic good for the community while costing the city a rather trivial amount of money, estimated at $ 24,000 for this year.
The lease provides for relocation of the race village — the “demised area” — to accommodate planned construction by the City of a Truman Waterfront Park during the next five years. It also makes SBI responsible for restoring the demised property to its pre-race condition at its own expense.
The Commission then approved the lease on a unanimous 6-0 vote.