Florida Keys

Can you imagine a hotel in the middle of the Gulf? This man can

This is an artist’s rendering of the Oceana Water Resort, a proposed hotel and sportfishing base on an elevated but moveable structure about 16 miles northwest of Key West. Long delayed by financing and permit issues, project leader Doug Pope says Oceana could still become a reality.
This is an artist’s rendering of the Oceana Water Resort, a proposed hotel and sportfishing base on an elevated but moveable structure about 16 miles northwest of Key West. Long delayed by financing and permit issues, project leader Doug Pope says Oceana could still become a reality. Conception art

The dream of Oceana remains alive, project leader Doug Pope says.

“I think about it every day,” Pope said this week of his plans for an elevated resort surrounded by waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

“We haven’t given up on the project. We’re definitely still excited about it,” Pope said. “Time will tell, but I think we’re going to be able to do it.”

A sea change in the business and regulatory environment with new leadership at the highest levels of federal government could smooth the way for the Oceana Water Resort, he suggested.

As described to state and federal officials seven years ago, Oceana was proposed as a six-story, 50-unit resort rising more than 100 feet off the Gulf of Mexico surface about 16 miles northwest of Key West.

“We had the funding all lined up but it fell through at the last minute,” Pope said. “That’s still the big thing — getting the funding.”

Originally estimated to cost $18 million to $20 million, Oceana’s cost now may approach $27 million, Pope said.

“We know it’s getting a lot more expensive,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have to reduce the size a bit.”

Pope, a captain and professional treasure salvor, knows the Lower Keys area from his work as a treasure salvor on the Santa Margarita and Atocha shipwreck sites off Key West. He is an expert in the use of a “jack-up” boat, which holds its position by lowering four pilings to the bottom.

The Oceana essentially is designed as a larger version of Pope’s jack-up workboat, which can raise its semi-permanent pilings to move when needed. Like an oil rig, it would be licensed as a vessel rather than a permanent structure, although it would not float on the surface.

The desired site, in 55 to 60 feet of water, lies outside boundaries of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge.

In a 2012 presentation to the Sanctuary Advisory Council, Pope said Oceana would make every effort to protect the environment. Some council members expressed concern about protecting the sea bottom and nearby waters and wondered if the tall structure would be a visual blight on the horizon.

Pope intends Oceana to provide a fleet of sportfishing boats for anglers and a place to get away from it all. The resort would be serviced by deliveries from Key West.

“We know we can meet every regulation right now, except one,” Pope said.

That rule would prevent a limited amount of treated water from the resort’s desalination plant from being returned to the gulf. “I don’t understand why that’s a problem,” Pope said.

The concept of an oceanic resort may be catching on.

In French Polynesia in the South Pacific, a U.S.-based nonprofit group seeks to create “floating islands” that provide living space and environmentally safe energy production for “people who are threatened by rising sea levels,” The New York Times reported on Monday.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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