A decade after a hurricane destroyed the crude but beloved old lodgings at Flamingo, Everglades National Park is ready to rebuild.
On Friday, park officials announced the selection of a Virginia-based hospitality company to build at least 24 cottages and 20 eco-tents, which are slated to be up and running by December 2019. A new restaurant and store will also open at an undetermined date. Guest Services Inc., which also operates lodgings at national and state parks in Washington state, New York and California, could build up to 40 cottages and 40 tents under the 20-year contract.
“We wanted to make sure any new construction would not take away from the natural feel that the place has had for many many years, while at the same time offering amenities that visitors to national parks expect,” park superintendent Pedro Ramos said.
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In 2005, back-to-back hurricanes hammered Florida and left the old concrete-block accommodations in ruins. Since 2009, the park has been wrestling with what to rebuild in their place. Plans for a smaller, more storm-resistant lodge failed to get funding from the Obama administration. University of Miami architecture students erected a tent on a raised wooden platform as a pilot project, but only one was built. Then, in 2013 the park began searching in earnest for an operator, offering a 10-year contract but requiring a significant investment that ultimately totaled $6 million. It got no takers.
“Constructing something in a place like Flamingo clearly takes more effort than in a more metropolitan area,” Ramos said. “We’re talking about an area within Monroe County that sits an hour and a half away from Miami proper.”
So two years ago the park unveiled plans for cottages and eco-tents to better match the low-key surroundings set along the edge of Florida Bay. And the park doubled the contract to 20 years.
The new elevated cottages, with sweeping views of Florida Bay, are intended to be climate ready and able to withstand any sea rise impacts over the next 50 years, Ramos said. Monroe County building codes require they be elevated at least 17 feet. A new restaurant will also replace the dining room in the old lodge, although no deadline for opening has yet been set. The new restaurant will also be elevated and include a store. The new company will also take over the marina, which includes the dockside store, canoes, kayaks and houseboat rentals.
A separate project is under way to rehab the old Mission 66 building that now houses the visitor center and restaurant, Ramos said.
Guest Services Inc., founded in Virginia in 1917, is one of a handful of concessionaires that provides contracts to the National Park Service. In addition to lodgings, the company also runs food kiosks on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and last year took over food and kayak rentals at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
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