Lodging May Be In The Works For Everglades National Park

The National Park Service is seeking a concessionaire to provide lodging and food service at Flamingo. The concessionaire would also manage the campground at Flamingo and Long Pine Key (pictured). Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The National Park Service recently issued a prospectus soliciting bids to provide lodging, food service, retail, and boat tours in the Flamingo area of Everglades National Park. The concession will also include the operation of the park’s two developed campgrounds, Long Pine and Flamingo, that have historically been managed by the National Park Service.

Yes, lodging is to return to Everglades National Park for the first time since the former motel units and rustic cabins were destroyed in 2005 by hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. This assumes a potential concessionaire can make the numbers work, considering the prospectus requires construction of 24 cottages, purchase of 20 relatively large tents, acquisition of 5 RVs, and paying for installation of the infrastructure to support it all.

The prospectus also requires that the concessionaire offer daily boat tours, operate an existing café in the Flamingo area, and manage a store at the marina where it will sell fuel and rent boat slips, bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and houseboats. The concessionaire will be authorized, but not required, to offer guided fishing and canoe trips, operate a visitor shuttle to canoe launch sites, offer a mobile food service at Long Pine Key Campground, provide wireless Internet, and operate a tow boat service.

The 24-cottages are to include four studio units, 12 one-bedroom units, and eight two-bedroom units. The cottages, which are to be built where the old motel units were once located, are to be hurricane-resistant and constructed on 10- to 12-foot pilings in order to provide protection from storm surges. Prospective concessionaires will be permitted to propose their own cottage designs, although the buildings must be compatible with the Flamingo area. The cottages will vary in size from 300 to 800 square feet and each will have a bathroom and kitchenette. The NPS estimates the construction cost, not counting necessary infrastructure, will range from $95,000 to $135,000 per unit, depending upon cottage size.

Bidders can also propose their own designs for the 20 tents (called “Eco-tents”) that will sit on platforms (to be constructed by the concessionaire) and have beds, chairs, a dresser, a light, and an electric fan. The tents, which will be located near the walk-in campground, are to have at least 120 feet of interior space. Guests will be required to use community bathrooms.

It is expected the tents will be in use from December 1 through April 30 each year, although a concessionaire could opt for a longer season. The tents will not have air conditioning, and the Flamingo area is subject to brutal heat and angry mosquitoes from late spring through late fall.

Oddly, the concessionaire will also be required to provide five RVs/trailers with full hookups and make them available for rent in the Flamingo campground.

NPS estimates an initial investment requirement of nearly $6 million, over half of which will consist of the expense of constructing the 24 cottages. The purchase of personal property (including the 20 tents) is estimated at $1.7 million. The concessionaire will gain a leasehold interest in the capital improvements, meaning that a portion of the concessionaire’s capital investment will be recovered in the event a different concessionaire is chosen at the end of the 10-year contract.

Annual revenues for a new concessionaire are projected to range between $3.7 million and $5.3 million with approximately 25 percent generated from lodging. NPS has estimated that approved lodging rates will range between $140 to $200 per night (depending upon size) for the cottages during high season and $100 to $150 the remainder of the year. The tents, which will be available only seasonally, are estimated to rent for $90 per night.

The two campgrounds currently managed by the NPS are forecast to produce $290,000 in revenues during 2012. According to the prospectus, these revenues are expected to range between $300,000 and $500,000 by 2015, seemingly indicating the likelihood of an increase in rates once the concessionaire assumes management of the two campgrounds. Sites currently rent for $16 per night ($30 for sites with electricity).

The prospectus requires a minimum annual franchise fee of 4.7 percent of gross revenues and an annual repair and maintenance contribution of 0.7 percent (seven-tenths of one percent) of revenues. Proposals from prospective concessionaires are due by April 4 in the Atlanta regional office of the National Park Service.

Comments

This is an interesting article published so soon after Barbara Moritsch's article on the NPS constant bid for increased visitation and facilities.

Ms. Moritsch asks for the Park Service to simplify operations (e.g., remove extraneous infrastructure and don’t build anything new.

Yet, it would be nice to stay at Flamingo for a couple of days without hauling all the camping equipment.

Yes, I smiled at this juxtaposition of articles too. Taken together, they start the conversation that we need to have.

Several interesting concepts in this proposal, including: (1) concessioner operation of 2 current NPS campgrounds; (2) "in-place" rental RV's in the campground; (3) a fairly significant investment in construction of lodging facilities in a site historically vulnerable to hurricanes. At least the proposal calls for "hurricane-resistant" construction, and recognizes that "hurricane-proof" isn't realistic.

That said, there are some potential advantages for visitors. According to Google Maps, it's about 48 miles and over an hour's drive from Flamingo to the nearest lodging outside the park. Perhaps that's far enough to justify in-park lodging for visitors who want to stay overnight during the winter months in this section of the park.

Given all the press in recent years about giant pythons overrunning the Everglades, it will be interesting to see if there's a potential marketing challenge in convincing guests to make a middle-of-the-night trek from the "eco-tents" to the community bathrooms :-)

But Jim, just think a bit. A midnight encounter with a python while trekking to the potty would provide instant relief for any problems a visitor may have with the lower digestive tract.

so i guess there gos the golden age , handicap access pass , and etc. discount camping for the elderly, thanks .

Hey with the new bounty on the pythons you could easily pay for your trip by catching a few-- note to wife.....

No, America the Beautiful passes would still be recognized even though the campgrounds would be operated by a concessionaire rather than the NPS. Quite a few U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and NPS campgrounds are already operated by private concessionaires and, so far as I know, continue to accept the passes for half-price camping. I believe a group of the concessionaires have camplained about this and would prefer that pass holders receive a discount of 10 to 20 percent rather than half price. Perhaps the concessionaires are staring at their own fiscal cliff.

gene{/b]
so i guess there gos the golden age , handicap access pass , and etc. discount camping for the elderly, thanks .
I've stayed at a campground operated by Xanterra, and they do offer the same discount. Xanterra operates all of the reservable campsites in Yellowstone.

http://www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com/camping-rates-148.html

Golden Age/Golden Access 50% Discount not available at Fishing Bridge

I'm guessing that there's something about the Fishing Bridge RV Park not technically being a campground that exempts it from the discount.

commits on america the beautiful , etc. passes, commits intresting .thanks .

From Exhibit B Operating Plan, part of the Prospectus files, on the NPS website:

"The Concessioner must provide a 50 percent (50%) discount off the base approved rate (not including hook ups or other upgraded amenities) charged for campground sites to all holders of the Interagency Senior and Interagency Access passes, and the previously issued Golden Age and Golden Access Passports. " (pg 17-B)

http://www.concessions.nps.gov/docs/Prospectus/EVER001-14/Draft%20Contract%20and%20Exhibits/EVER001-14_Exhibit_B_Operating_Plan.pdf

Here's something that may make you think twice (or more) about tent camping in the Everglades. I wonder if there are any small children missing down there?

(Caution -- graphic images)

http://staugustine.com/news/2011-11-01#.UR1T8PImbTo