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.