The Truman Waterfront Advisory Board (TWAB) may have stirred a hornets’ nest at its meeting on April 21st at at Old City Hall.
The seven-member board met solely to consider an agreement between the City of Key West and Super Boat International Productions, Inc. a Florida for-profit corporation. SBI produces and runs the City of Key West World Championship Race for powerboats held each year in November, just after Fantasy Fest.
TWAB was created by the City Commission/Naval Properties Local Redevelopment Authority in 2007. It was charged with making recommendations to the LRA on all matters relating to the Truman Waterfront. TWAB is made up of seven citizens, each one appointed by one member of the City Commission. All matters relating to the still largely vacant 33 acre parcel are, by City Commission direction, to be reviewed first by TWAB. In some cases, when the matter being reviewed affects the portion of the land that is in the Bahama Village Redevelopment Area, or TIF District, those plans plans are also supposed to pass review by another Advisory Board, the Bahama Village Redevelopment Advisory Committee.
The TWAB Board and several private citizens picked apart the proposed agreement page by page, then concluded that they could not recommend approval to the LRA without the agreement being modified in several critical areas. The discussions led board members Sandra Walters and Sandra MacMannis to ask whether the agreement was approved by the Attorney’s Department. When Bradshaw assured her and the board that it was, Ms. Walters stated that she was “frankly amazed that the agreement made it through legal”.
The agreement was to have been on the City Commission’s agenda for May 6. We have recently learned that the item has been pulled and that the Naval Properties Local Redevelopment Authority will not meet at all on that date.
The contract shown to the Waterfront Board was negotiated between City Manager Bob Vitas and John Carbonell, President of SBI, the name by which the organization that produces the annual boat races is commonly known. TWAB could have recommended to the LRA that the agreement be approved; that it be disapproved; or that it be approved with recommended modifications.
The city was represented at the meeting by Doug Bradshaw, the recently-appointed city Director of Port Operations. Bradshaw has a long history with the Truman Waterfront, first as Senior Project Manager for the City working in the City’s Engineering Department, then as Acting Director of Engineering and as Senior Project Manager. Bradshaw and Martha Arencibia, the clerk for the Waterfront Board were the only two city employees at the meeting. Despite the meeting’s purpose being to consider a legal agreement, no one was present from the City Attorney’s office.
At an earlier meeting of TWAB, on March 17th, Planning Director Donald Craig announced that he would be taking over as liaison between the City and TWAB. However, reportedly asked Bradshaw to sit in for him at this meeting because he had a scheduling conflict.
The tone for the meeting was set by the first pubic speaker, regular contributor Margaret Romero. Ms. Romero, despite not seeing the proposed agreement until a few hours before the meeting, presented the board with a page-by-page analysis that would lead board members to subsequently examine and discuss the points she made.
Citizen Tom Milone also raised a number of questions on the agreement revolving around a $ 35,000 cap on what SBI is required to expend for its portion of the expenses related to the activities surrounding Race Week, with the City then being responsible for the rest; estimated at around $ 20,000.
Ron Deems speaking for the Navy and NOAA says that Sean Morton, NOAA’s Superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, has serious concerns about his employees and the public having access to NOAA facilities, especially the NOAA Eco-Discovery Center. SBI attempts to control access to the race pits and parking and has in the past attempted to bar access areas that must remain open to the public during race week. Deems criticized a portion the agreement that would restrict non-race traffic to one lane throughout the race village. He pointed out that the deed of conveyance is the document that controls what can and can’t be done, and no other agreement can supersede the deed.
At the end of an hour and ten minutes of discussion, the question was called by member Labrada.
Cintron opined that it would send a wrong message to the LRA and citizens at large if the board recommended denial. Members Labrada and Gilleran both objected to any action that would require another review by TWAB after modifications were made, on grounds that it would slow down and perhaps bring to an end to an agreement that members unanimously believe is important to the the city’s economy.
When the question was called for a vote, it came in the form of a “motion to approve in concept”, but with a set of recommendations made during the meeting for changes to the agreement.
Initially, the vote came to a tie, with members Labrada, Gilleran and Walters voting yes, and members McMannis, Sullivan and chairman Cintron voting no. Since ties lose, and because Cintron wanted the LRA to have the benefit of TWAB’s thinking, he switched his vote to yes and the measure would have gone to the LRA on May 6th. However, as we recently found out that won’t happen.
We’ll be following this issue and many others related to the Truman Waterfront and Bahama Village in the weeks ahead.
To cop a phrase from former Publisher Dennis Cooper, stay tuned.
The full agreement that was reviewed by TWAB may be downloaded here.. The document also includes maps of the parking plans at different times during the next five years.
Bob Kelly is a retired computer company executive who moved to Key West in 1999 with his wife Janet. They live aboard a houseboat at City Marina at Garrison Bight. He is an early graduate from the city Ambassador program. He was a member of the board of directors of the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust and also the Bahama Village Music Program. He also served briefly on the Truman Waterfront Advisory Board before being removed on a technicality.