KEYS COMMUNITY CAME TOGETHER TO FUND ARTIFICIAL REEF PROJECT
Keys tourism leaders, bankers and dive operators worked together in an unusual partnership to fund the cleaning and sinking of the Spiegel Grove, a retired Navy transport ship that sank June 10, 2002 to become the world's largest artificial reef.
Supporters continued funding the project even when the ship capsized temporarily May 17. "This project met obstacle after obstacle after obstacle. There were a lot of times when it was evaluated and we thought, 'Gee do we keep just going forward?' And the answer was always yes. The goal in mind was to have a world class artificial reef and now it's not only world class, but it's also world known," said Joy Martin, board of directors chairperson, Key Largo Chamber of Commerce.
The lion's share of the project was paid for by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC), which uses tourist tax revenues to fund sustainable tourism development in the Florida Keys island chain. The TDC has received approval from board of county commissioners to spend $768,000 on the Spiegel Grove project.
"Everyone recognized the benefit of this project to the Keys community," said Kevin Senecal, business manager for the Spiegel Grove project and president of the Divers Direct dive shops. The tourism council cannot disperse funds until the ship is sunk, so a team of local bankers provided a loan of $1.05 million to cover the immediate costs of cleaning the ship, towing it from Virginia to the Keys, and the initial sinking effort.
When the ship sank unexpectedly and overturned, the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce inked a contract with Resolve Marine of Ft. Lauderdale to roll the ship and complete the sinking for an additional $250,000.
TIB Bank of the Keys is the lead lender, providing the bulk of the loan. First State Bank of Key Largo and Community Bank of Florida are helping with the balance. Divers Direct is guaranteeing the $250,000 of the loan on behalf of Spiegel Grove organizers, Senecal said.
The funding is managed by the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation set up to spearhead the project, under the auspices of the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce. TDC funds will be released to pay back half of the bank loan. The remainder will be recouped by a grassroots fund-raising effort led by Divers Direct and the Key Largo chamber.
These groups are selling gold-brushed commemorative medallions for $250 a piece to support the sinking of the Spiegel Grove. The medallions are decorated with a raised likeness of the Spiegel Grove and will certify the purchasers as "Lifetime Sponsors" of the Spiegel Grove project. They are a limited-edition item and only 1,000 will be manufactured and sold. In addition, dive operators in the Upper Keys expect to sell at least 15,000 plastic medallions a year at a price of $10 each to cover the balance of the Spiegel Grove costs. The plastic medallions can be affixed to a diver's scuba equipment as a keepsake.
The purchase of a plastic medallion is not required to dive or snorkel the Spiegel Grove, however, dive operators are hopeful that most of the thousands of people who dive the wreck will recognize the value in helping to repay the costs.
More information on the Spiegel Grove and links to Key Largo visitor information are available on this website. Visitors are encouraged to contact the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, at 1-800-FLA-KEYS, Ext. 1. Elsewhere, dial 305-451-1414.
FOR MEDIA INFORMATION ONLY:
Contact: Andy Newman
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