Governor says in Key West: ‘We’re open for business’

Gov. Rick Scott and Key West hotel owner Robert Spottswood speak to reporters Wednesday.
Gov. Rick Scott and Key West hotel owner Robert Spottswood speak to reporters Wednesday. Keynoter

Gov. Rick Scott trumpeted Florida Keys tourism, while adding that debris removal and housing for the displaced are also priorities, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which roared over the island chain Sept. 9 and 10.

“Key West and the Florida Keys are open for business,” Scott said Wednesday to cheers from members of the business community gathered at the Marriott Beachside Hotel in Key West. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure everyone comes back.”

Scott said, “Our job is to make sure everybody comes back in droves. Our jobs are tied to it. Our livelihood is tied to it. It’s the most important thing we can do for all of our families.”

After a press conference, Scott told reporters, “We still have work to do. The big issues we’re working on, we still have a lot of debris to pick up. Second, we’re still working on housing. We have been working with [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] and we have provided the county with a variety of options. We’re moving trailers here.”

Scott lauded local officials, including hotel owner Robert Spottswood, a commissioner on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, for his work during the storm. The Marriott opened to many locals who rode out the storm.

“You guys kept each other safe and you rode out the storm extremely well,” Scott said. “I hope you all listen and evacuate next time.”

At a time when debris lines Keys neighborhoods and families remain displaced from their homes while FEMA trailers sit here idle, the governor’s press conference was orchestrated to push tourism. Locals showed up with conch shells. Clinton Curry, who noted he is a seventh-generation Key Wester, blew one as a trumpet to open the event.

Virginia Panico, executive vice president of the Key West Chamber of Commerce, said the city is prepared for the upcoming Fantasy Fest Oct. 20-29.

Mayor Craig Cates said it’s critical to recover tourism in the weeks after Irma.

“Our hearts go out to the Upper Keys and the Middle Keys,” Cates said. “The houses, the trailers — that’s our workforce. The governor has also offered to help us fast-track our affordable housing projects. Just because we’re in a hurry to get Key West open does not mean we aren’t concerned for our neighbors. This is all part of the recovery process.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen