Nadene Grossman Orr was already faced with the challenge of organizing Key West’s largest annual party, the devilishly decadent Fantasy Fest, for the first time.
Then Hurricane Irma devastated parts of the island chain Sept. 10, destroying homes and livelihoods.
While being sensitive to both the agony of residents in the Middle and Lower Keys and grappling with the needs of the economic engine of tourism that fuels the entire island chain, she says the 10-day festival is ready to kick off Oct. 20.
“We really have to get everybody back to work in order for this community to survive,” Grossman Orr said. “For the world to see that the Florida Keys and Key West are still on the map.”
The theme is “Time Travel Unravels” and as of Friday, organizers were still taking applications for floats to ride in the Oct. 28 parade down Duval Street. Fees are waived for Monroe County residents.
“Every little bit counts,” Grossman Orr said. “We’re having quite an explosion of people today submitting their applications.”
A bunch of Big Pine Key residents and others who lost homes to the hurricane are participating in the parade as always, despite the hardship everyday life has become due to the Category 4 Irma.
“Nobody had a worse year,” said Christine Godlewski, whose home, which fared well in the storm, is the staging area for the Lower Keys Fluffers, an award-winning parade group.
At least half the members lost their homes one way or another to Irma, Godlewski said, ticking off a list of people who are displaced. But they agreed to at least do something for the Saturday night parade.
“We’re not spending a lot of money on the float, we’re not charging people to participate,” she said. “We’re going to do it on the absolute cheap. We’re just going to have fun.”
The Fluffers’ theme is always kept secret until parade day, but Godlewski said even on a tight budget, she sees their float as a contender in the awards.
City Commissioner Clayton Lopez lost his home to Hurricane Wilma’s storm surge in 2005 and remembers well that Fantasy Fest was rescheduled to January that year.
“We moved Fantasy Fest back because of how long it took up to get cleaned up,” said Lopez. “The fact that we’re doing this right now and moving rapidly shows the economic importance of these festivals. I think it’s great we’re moving forward on it.”
Lopez said he didn’t feel up to decorating his Bahama Village home for the party season, but his wife Pam changed his mind.
“It will liven up the neighborhood,” Lopez said, adding that that is just what Goombay, the two-day street festival in Bahama Village that precedes Fantasy Fest, and Fantasy Fest will do on a larger scale.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen