Economic Recovery/Tourism

12.1.17:  Islamorada’s Amara Cay Resort Re-opens Following Hurricane Irma

Amara Cay Resort, the oceanfront beach resort on Islamorada, is set to reopen its doors Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, after closing for repairs following Hurricane Irma.

“We are thrilled to welcome guests back to our slice of paradise,” said Eddie Sipple, area general manager of Islamorada Resort Co. “I am incredibly grateful to the dedicated team of construction workers and associates who worked diligently to restore Amara Cay Resort. We are re-opening this resort with pride and a true sense of community.”

Recognized in November as a “Top Resort in the Florida Keys” by the readers of Condé Nast Traveler, Amara Cay Resort will open its 110 guestrooms and suites, a new resort pool, wedding venues, Reelburger restaurant and resort grounds.


11.6.17: ‘Bloodline’ Star’s Concert to Benefit Keys Hurricane Relief

Music by “Bloodline” star Norbert Leo Butz, a silent auction featuring “Bloodline” and Jimmy Buffett memorabilia and a chance to benefit Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the Florida Keys await attendees at a one-of-a-kind concert set for 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17.

To be staged at The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St., the concert evening stars the charismatic Butz, an award-winning stage and screen actor who portrays Kevin Rayburn in the original Netflix series filmed primarily in the Upper Keys.

Equally acclaimed for his musical talents, Butz is to appear with his country-rock band consisting of Jason Laughlin and James Leahey. His performances have been praised for their rock and blues edge and powerful emotional authenticity.

The evening’s silent auction includes memorabilia from the hit Netflix drama and items donated by famed singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett, who channels his close ties to the Keys into music rich in references to the island chain and its unique lifestyle.

Proceeds from the evening benefit Hurricane Irma relief efforts in areas of the Keys still recovering from the Sept. 10 storm.

Tickets are $50 per person for general admission and $100 per person for VIP admission.

Ticket purchases are not tax-deductible, but additional contributions are fully deductible to the extent permitted by law. All contributions received by The Studios of Key West in conjunction with the event are to be disbursed through the Florida Keys Emergency Relief Fund at the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys.


10.25.17: Key West Film Festival to Showcase Cinema Nov. 15-19

Movie aficionados can enjoy more than 30 films from genres including narrative features, documentaries, foreign language, and LGBTQ- and Florida-focused themes during the sixth annual Key West Film Festival.

Launching the 2017 festival, set for Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 15-19, is the acclaimed film, “The Shape of Water,” starring actress Octavia Spencer in director Guillermo del Toro’s first offering to be produced in English. The movie is a romantic “creature feature” with an amphibious being and set in Cold War–era America.

The closing film, “Last Flag Flying” by director Richard Linklater, features actors Bryan Cranston, Steve Carell and Laurence Fishburne as Vietnam veterans who journey on a road trip to bury one of the men’s sons.

Themed “Passion Meets Paradise,” the festival offers screenings and question-and-answer sessions with industry insiders and critics.

The event’s third annual Critics Focus program is to be led by Kenneth Turan, film critic for the Los Angeles Times, and Joshua Rothkopf, film editor for Time Out New York. Other critics include Eric Kohn, Alison Willmore, David Fear, Jeffrey Wells and Steve Dollar.

The annual Brett Ratner Florida Film Scholarship honors a Florida student filmmaker with a $5,000 grant.

Films are to be screened at island venues including the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval St.; Key West Theater, 512 Eaton St.; The Studios of Key West, 533 Eaton St.; and Tropic Cinema, 416 Eaton St.

Social festivities are to be held at Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, 205 Whitehead St.; the Harry S. Truman Little Truman White House, 111 Front St.; Mangoes Key West, 700 Duval St.; and the Waterfront Brewery, 201 William St.

The festival’s second annual Golden Key for Costume Design event is to honor designer Mark Bridges and includes a screening of the 2011 Oscar-award winner, “The Artist.” Deborah Nadoolman Landis of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is to present the award to Bridges via satellite.

A silent auction with film memorabilia benefits “the community at large affected by Hurricane Irma,” said Brooke Christian, festival founder and chairman.

The auction includes donations by actress Angela Bassett, Sony Classics, IFC Films, Magnolia Pictures, Lions Gate Films and others.

Event information, schedule and ticketing:


10.18.17: Key Largo Reef and Wreck Diving Report

As the Florida Keys recover from the impacts of Hurricane Irma’s Sept. 10 passage through the island chain, professional dive operators are assessing post-Irma condition of coral reefs and shipwrecks, precious resources located in the protected waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Off Key Largo, divers report that some of the favorite iconic dive and snorkel sites located 3 to 4 miles offshore remain very much intact, despite some topographic changes and a displacement of sand from deeper waters onto shallow areas of the reefs, which tidal cycles and ocean currents are expected to correct soon.

Key Largo dive operators — many of them Blue Star operators who promote marine conservation on behalf of the sanctuary — excitedly noted that the experience on some wreck dives is like seeing them for the first time, with new features exposed. During the assessment divers also collected a variety of marine debris from the reefs and mangrove trees lining canals that lead to open-water access.

“Every day more fish return, sea turtles, gentle nurse sharks and stingrays, all cruising the spur-and-groove formations that make these coral structures so recognizable,” said Jack Fishman, a dive instructor at Key Largo’s Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

Additional assessments are still ongoing throughout the Keys coordinated by NOAA’s Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Here are some highlights.

Molasses Reef: Marked by over two dozen mooring buoys and home to schools of grunt and gray snapper, Molasses Reef is named for what is thought to be the cargo of the wrecked wooden-hulled Austrian ship Slobodna that ran aground in 1887.

It juts out into the cleansing waters of the Gulf Stream, and has high-profile coral heads and some of the best visibility anywhere in the Florida Keys. Irma’s strong storm surge displaced the sand surrounding the coral reefs, actually making some spots a foot or two deeper. Although reportedly some brain coral formations are now gone, the algae, soft corals and sea fans that the surge stripped from the substrate are already starting to grow back.

The recognizable 10-foot-long windlass or “winch” left behind near the wreckage of the Slobodna remains in place at a shallow site along Molasses Reef, nicknamed Winch Hole.

“Christ of the Abyss”: One of the most photographed underwater sites in the world, the 9-foot-tall “Christ of the Abyss” bronze statue — also known as “Christ of the Deep” and a recognized symbol of Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park — still stands unscathed on its concrete base in approximately 25 feet of water.

Located in waters adjacent to the nation’s first undersea park at a site called Key Largo Dry Rocks, the 4,000-pound statue still looks out over a thriving coral reef, dominated by a gigantic brain coral.

Duane: In 1987 a group of motivated dive operators spearheaded a project whereby two 327-foot retired U.S. Coast Guard cutters, Bibb and Duane, were sunk as dive attractions just south of Molasses Reef.

The Duane now rests upright in 120 feet of water while the Bibb landed on its starboard side in 130 feet of water. Both ships are colorfully encrusted and attract abundant marine life, although the Duane is the more visited of the two due to its upright orientation and shallower depth.

Post-Irma, divers report that the top of a smokestack fell off and rests on the sea floor beside the Duane, revealing a never-before-exposed area inside of the ship for divers to explore. Otherwise, the iconic crow’s nest atop the superstructure remains unmoved.

Spiegel Grove: The 510-foot military vessel Spiegel Grove, located 7 miles offshore of Key Largo and sunk as a dive attraction in 2002, experienced changes after Hurricane Irma’s powerful storm surge.

Staff divers with Horizon Divers in Key Largo report the anchor chain’s forward bow position has switched from the port side to the starboard side, ripping a notch in a section of the bow at approximately 100 feet. Instructor Jeff Knapp said he and other crewmembers believe the wreck may have moved forward several feet, as the bow rests at a depth nearly 5 feet shallower than it did before Irma.

Knapp and his team also discovered a hole approximately 40 feet wide in the bow keel, wide enough to view at 132 feet, where the wreck meets the sand. For safety reasons, divers are not encouraged to use any newly formed holes in the ship hull as a swim-through.

At 70 feet, at the Spiegel Grove’s bow, a walkway positioned in front of the ship’s “watch room,” or bridge, is now cleared of debris that had previously littered the area.

The Benwood: Hurricane Irma shifted the sands surrounding the wreck of the merchant marine freighter Benwood, which sank on the night of April 9, 1942, after colliding with the ship Robert S. Tuttle. Both were in blackout mode to avert German U-boats rumored to be active off the Keys coast.

Strong currents from Irma unearthed a previously undiscovered anchor near the wreck, adding an interesting new feature to this already popular dive site in just 35 feet of water. The site is characterized by its healthy fish populations, Christmas tree worms and encrusting fire coral that cloaks the hull.


10.3.17: Keys Tourism Council Allocates $1 Million for Emergency Capital Funding

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council has $1 million in emergency capital funding available for municipalities and nonprofit organizations to help rebuild tourism-facilities impacted by Hurricane Irma, which struck the Keys Sept. 10.

To qualify, the applicant must have a primary purpose of serving visitors. Individuals and for-profit organizations are not eligible.

The funding is available on a first-come, first-reimbursed basis. Funds will no longer be available for distribution after March 31, 2018 — or before that date if all funding has been disbursed.

“These emergency monies are earmarked for our tourism-related facilities and nonprofits impacted by Irma,” said Rita Irwin, chairperson of the Monroe County Tourist Development Commission. “It will go a long way to help restore normalcy for our impacted tourism facilities throughout the Keys.

“We recognize that an important part of TDC’s mission is to improve the quality of residents’ lives and capital project funds help fulfill that goal,” she said.

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners approved the $1 million for emergency tourism-related capital projects and an additional $1 million needed for TDC marketing Sept. 27.

To request an application form, call 305-296-1552 and ask to speak with Maxine Pacini or Ammie Machan, or email or

Applicants must submit applications, which are requests for reimbursement, in a PDF form to one of the email addresses. Applications will be date-stamped and reviewed, with funds dispersed on a first-come priority.

The TDC is funded by a resort tax paid by visitors staying at a Keys lodging facility.

The tourism industry employs about half of the Keys’ workforce.


9.29.17: Press Release: Keys Tourism Council to Launch $1 Million Post-Irma Advertising Campaign

FLORIDA KEYS — The Monroe County Tourist Development Council, the Florida Keys’ official tourism promotion agency, is to launch a $1 million advertising

This frame grab shows part of a 30-second TV commercial that debuted Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, to create awareness that the Florida Keys have reopened to tourism following impacts from Hurricane Irma. The spot was created by Tinsley Advertising.

campaign Sunday to promote the return of visitors to the Florida Keys & Key West, which were impacted by Hurricane Irma Sept. 10.

The 125-mile-long island chain is to reopen to visitors Sunday, Oct. 1, and the first post-storm cruise ship called at Key West Sept. 24.

The advertising campaign — promoting the theme “We Are 1,” referring to U.S. Highway 1, the famed Florida Keys Overseas Highway that runs throughout the Keys — is being supplemented by targeted sales and public relations efforts to protect the destination’s upcoming winter tourism season.

The tourism industry employs approximately half of the Keys’ workforce.

The new ad campaign includes spot television, radio, digital, print, travel trade and national cable buys, and targets the domestic Northeast markets of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., as well as South Florida and Orlando.

“International news, travel and lifestyle consumers are targeted in the United Kingdom, Germany and Scandinavia,” said Dorn Martell, chief creative officer at Miami-based Tinsley Advertising, the TDC’s longtime ad agency that is launching the campaign.

“Our concept is that the Keys are resilient and that, as the sun rises in the Florida Keys, so do we,” Martell said. “The sun is shining, the fish are biting and there is a rainbow at the end of the hurricane.”

A television spot states: “Hurricane Irma may have knocked out our power, but in the Florida Keys, we’ve never been more connected. Together, we’ve picked up the pieces and we’re getting back to business. We are strong and resilient. We are 1.”

The spot incorporates a U.S. 1 highway sign, referencing the federal designation for the Florida Keys Overseas Highway that connects the island chain to the south Florida mainland.

NewmanPR, which is concluding its 37th year as the TDC’s public relations firm, is disseminating accurate and balanced information about the status of Keys districts. The messaging includes points that Key Largo and Key West were less impacted by the storm than regions in between. Other more-impacted tourism-related businesses in the Middle and Lower Keys will take longer to rebound fully for visitors, but some hotels and businesses on the bayside or gulfside in those areas are open.

Sales efforts will continue targeting top global travel industry events geared toward tour operators, travel agents and niches such as the LGBT and weddings markets, said Stacey Mitchell, the TDC’s director.

On Wednesday Sept. 27, the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners approved $1 million for TDC marketing and a separate $1 million allocation for capital projects to improve tourism-related facilities impacted by Irma.

The Monroe County Tourist Development Council is funded by a resort tax paid by visitors staying in Florida Keys lodging facilities.

Florida Keys & Key West visitor information: or 800-FLA-KEYS


9.27.17: BOCC Approves TDC Emergency Funds for Marketing and Capital Projects After Irma

The Monroe County Board of County Commissioners has approved $1 million in emergency funds for Tourist Development Council marketing efforts and a separate $1 million for TDC-funded capital improvement projects following Hurricane Irma. Allocations are to come from the TDC’s emergency reserves.

Meeting Wednesday at the Harvey Government Center in Key West, the BOCC approved the request after a presentation by representatives of the TDC and its advertising agency, Tinsley Advertising.

“If people don’t start putting money back in their pockets, we’re going to lose even more of our workforce,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers.

The Keys tourism industry employs about half the workforce.

Besides emergency marketing, funds will be used for capital projects grants to improve tourism-related facilities impacted by Irma.

“Getting approval for this funding means we can work to save our winter season, provide those necessary jobs and help (tourism-related) entities make needed repairs so they can open to the fullest capacity.” said Stacey Mitchell, the new director of the TDC, who replaced retired director Harold Wheeler.

Once county and municipal officials announced that visitors could return to the Florida Keys beginning Oct. 1, the TDC launched awareness and marketing efforts that included advertising, public relations and sales strategies.

The TDC is funded from a resort tax that visitors pay when they stay in a Keys-based lodging facility.


9.25.17: After Irma, Florida Keys to Reopen to Visitors Oct. 1

KEY WEST, Florida Keys — After the Florida Keys were impacted by Hurricane Irma Sept. 10, local government officials announced Monday that the island chain would reopen to visitors Sunday, Oct. 1.

While Key Largo and Key West were least impacted by the Category 4 storm, not all lodging, including RV resorts and other tourism facilities throughout the Keys, are operating on a normal basis. Potential visitors should call ahead to ensure hotels and their favorite attractions are open. Some hotels are accommodating displaced residents under a Federal Emergency Management Agency program.

In addition, recovery efforts are ongoing, especially in the Lower Keys and parts of Marathon where many residences and businesses were hardest hit by the storm. Motorists should use extreme caution when navigating these regions and stay off side roads to avoid hindering restoration activities. Throughout the Keys there are significant debris piles that are being picked up by cleanup contractors.

The decision to open the Keys to visitors was based on winding up some of the most immediate infrastructure repairs, officials said. Almost all power and water have been restored from Key Largo through Marathon as well as throughout Stock Island and Key West. Cellular service is working well, but restoration of Comcast cable television and internet is lagging behind other utilities.

Bridges on the Florida Keys Overseas Highway passed inspections and several roadbed breaches were repaired.

Hospitals have reopened in the Upper Keys and Key West.

“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” said Monroe County Mayor George Neugent. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”

Key West International Airport has reopened and commercial service has resumed, as has general aviation. Florida Keys Marathon International Airport is processing general aviation and charter flights again.

The Port of Key West has reopened to cruise ships.

Some special events have been postponed or canceled.

Others including Key Largo’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, set for Oct. 18-22, Marathon’s Stone Crab Eating Contest scheduled Oct. 21 and Key West’s Fantasy Fest, slated for Oct. 20-29, are to take place as planned.

More information on the Keys can be found at

Recovery efforts are being chronicled at

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