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Proposals Sought for the Development, Construction and Management of Two Hotels,
One at Key West International Airport and One at Florida Keys Marathon Airport
By Alyson Crean, Florida Keys Keynoter, MarathonMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 5, 2008 - --As requests for proposals go out looking for a developer to build hotels at Monroe County's two public airports, County Commissioner Mario Di Gennaro reiterates "the county is not going into the hotel business."

The bid requests went live at the end of last week, posted on the government bid Web site called Demand Star. "The county is seeking sealed proposals for the development, construction and management of two hotels," the proposal reads, "one located at the Key West International Airport and the other located at the Florida Keys Marathon Airport...."

The idea came from Di Gennaro last summer after a developer friend came to him with the idea, the commissioner said. At first the County Commission talked about just one hotel, sited at Marathon airfield. Commissioners agreed it could be a way to get a private developer to help build a dedicated emergency operations center. By tying it into a hotel, it would provide sleep space for emergency responders in case of a hurricane, something the existing EOC at the Marathon Government Center cannot do.

Later, however, a hotel at the Key West airport became part of the conversation. In December, the commission voted 4-1 to go out for bid on the two projects.

Commissioner George Neugent, the sole dissenter, says he's not opposed to the idea in general, but believes the state Department of Community Affairs will oppose the added strain on evacuation times and density of land use. DCA would have to approve new development at either airport.

County Engineer David Koppel sent out a draft of the request for bids last week, but Di Gennaro says he's keeping it all at arm's length. "I'm staying away from the RFP," he said, "especially since a friend of mine is involved."

Di Gennaro says the issue is not really who gets the bid, but that the county make money off the land it owns. "We're trying to get an income to stop taxing people," he said.

"There is no risk for the county. We're trying to take advantage of our assets."

According to the requests for bids, developers are free to bid on one or both projects. Proposals for the Marathon site must include an EOC. Some worry the hotels might compete with existing hotels, many of which are working a little harder these days to fill rooms. But Di Gennaro says the challenge to compete and fill rooms is up to the successful bidders. The county also has a moratorium on building new hotel rooms, which was renewed in January for another year. Di Gennaro says that's probably not an issue because any new construction would likely push an eventual opening date well into next year. Bids will be accepted until June 4.

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To see more of the Keynoter, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.keynoter.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

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