Key West commissioners to consider new Fantasy Fest contract with promoter

Fantasy Fest organizers say they need to start working on the 2016 event, set for Oct. 21 to 30, and have asked Key West city leaders to give them a one-year contract while they work on negotiating a new deal.

The City Commission isn't giving up on striking a new agreement with the Tourist Development Association, a nonprofit that owns the Fantasy Fest brand, Mayor Craig Cates said.

Cates called the one-year extension a sensible break for the organizers, given the fact that the event draws some 70,000 people to Key West each October.

"We don't want to hold them back where they're in limbo with vendors or hotels, with booking people who are coming," Cates said. "Let them finish this year and that will give us some time to work out a new contract."

Last year's Fantasy Fest, which runs for 10 days, cost Key West nearly $300,000 in community services work, police and fire department overtime and lodging for out-of-town law enforcement.

The TDA reimbursed the city about $63,000.

Commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St., rather than their typical Tuesday because of Election Day, during which Old City Hall is a polling site.

As of Feb. 11, planning for Fantasy Fest was already two months behind, said Linda O'Brien of the Market Share Co., the company the TDA hires to promote the event.

Cates isn't alone in favoring the one-year contract for this year's Fantasy Fest.

"As long as the city manager starts now, right after the meeting, working on a contract for 2017," Commissioner Billy Wardlow said. "It's got to get done."

Wardlow is among those in Key West who believe the city spends far too much on an event that in the contract defines Fantasy Fest as a two-day affair, ending with a Saturday night parade.

"Special events ought to carry the majority of the burden for it," Wardlow said.

In February, at a commission workshop, TDA officials said they took losses of about $15,000 in both 2013 and 2014, and don't know how they would find more money to pay for what the city spends on the annual 10-day event.

The TDA said in 2014 it spent $455,941 but took in only $440,228, a loss of more than $15,700, while reimbursing the city less than $63,000.

Last year's event was another loss for the TDA, its leaders said.

Commissioners have been divided over how much Key West needs to pour into the year's largest tourist draw, which has always been a seasonal shot in the arm for the island's hotels and restaurants.

The TDA takes a loss due to legal fees, said Steve Robbins, the TDA's vice-chairman.

"We pay to protect Fantasy Fest," Robbins told commissioners. "The TDA pays our attorneys to protect the trademark and copyright for Fantasy Fest so it can continue to be an event that is good for the city."