Costs, seasonality, and even climate change have planners at Everglades National Park revisiting how best to provide lodging for visitors to the Flamingo area of the park.
It's been more than six years since a hurricane destroyed the old lodging facility, which was a collection of motel-like buildings dating to the early 1960s. Back in August 2010 when the park released the master plan to guide rebuilding of the Flamingo area, officials envisioned a $15-$18 million lodge.
The plan called for a 30-unit lodge (2 elevated buildings) that would replace the series of motel-like units. The facility was to be built within easy walking distance to the visitor center, marina, restaurant, pool, and amphitheater. Two-dozen one- and two-bedroom cottage units also were in the plan.
But after going over the lodging aspect of the master plan with Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and considering the relatively short season for peak occupancy, the cost of building in the Flamingo area, and the threats posed by hurricanes and sea-level rise tied to climate change, the decision was made to return to the drawing board, said Fred Herling, the park planner for Everglades.
“I would say there was sticker shock when he saw the price tag for the ($78 million) master plan overall, and some of the components, such as lodging, individually," Mr. Herling said during a phone conversation the other day. "His experience in the agency said to him that the margins for building a facility of this price tag, given the market that we know historically for Flamingo and the cost of doing business down there, it just would not pan out financially."
With the Park Service expecting the eventual concessionaire for the Flamingo area to pay for the lodging facility the agency selects, the numbers just don't work for a $15-$18 million facility, he said.
Unlike parks with relatively strong year-round occupancy levels at their lodgings, at Flamingo the peak season is comparatively short, running from roughly December through Easter. As a result, a concessionaire would be hard-pressed to recoup their investment in a $15 million lodge during the length of their contract, the planner explained.
"The revenues coming in over the length of that contract, when you subtract out the cost to build, the cost to operate and maintain, the return on investment simply is not there for an investment of that size," said Mr. Herling.
Deciding what to replace the proposed lodge with is now the pending question for the park's planners, who have been looking at a mix of mobile units, perhaps something like the tent cabins used at Yosemite National Park or maybe some sort of trailer facility, along with more hardened cottages that could withstand hurricanes and yet be movable, he said.
Everglades officials in their search have even considered something similar to the screen-lined 15-by-15-foot cottages (with twin beds and electricity and central restrooms a short walk away) at Cinnamon Bay at Virgin Islands National Park.
“That certainly is an option that we’re looking at," Mr. Herling said. "We’re in the beginning stages of doing this prospectus development, which really gives us the market and financial analysis for what would eventally go into that prospectus that goes out for bid sometime next year. So we are looking at any and all potential options for either products that exist, or products that could be tailored for our specific needs that, at the end of the day, would be cost-effective to build or buy and operate."
How many units might be in play remains to be determined, he said; it could wind up being 40 or 50, or fewer.