More than a decade after hurricanes Katrina and Wilma destroyed the lodging and restaurant at Flamingo, the National Park Service has selected a company to rebuild at the Everglades National Park outpost.
"I know the public is going to be very happy to be able to have that opportunity to travel all the way down to the southern tip of the Florida peninsula within the park and be able to stay down there, as they used to for many, many years before 2005," said Pedro Ramos, superintendent of Everglades National Park.
Flamingo sits at the edge of Florida Bay and can be reached by water or a 45-minute drive from Florida City. Before 2005, the site had a 103-room lodge, 24 cabins and a restaurant. The campground and marina have continued to operate.
Guest Services Inc. has agreed to spend $6 million building 24 cottages and 20 eco-tents by December of 2019, as well as a new restaurant. The company will also manage the campgrounds at Flamingo and Long Pine Key and manage the marina and boat tours of Florida Bay. The contract runs for 20 years.
The Park Service has sent out a prospectus for rebuilding at Flamingo three times since 2011, Ramos said, but this is the first time a bidder responded with the services that the Park Service was looking for.
The eco-tents will be a new addition to the park. Ramos described them as "typically a structure that is lighter in construction and built with [more] sustainable materials" than a cottage.
Ramos said he's looking forward to rebuilding after such a long time.
"You have no idea how often I hear from visitors that come from around the country — or even international visitors — they ask me why Flamingo looks the way it does. Flamingo right now looks somewhat disattended," he said.
The National Park Service is building a new visitor center at Flamingo at the same time. Adding lodging and other services should also help the local economy, he said.
"The four parks in South Florida already contribute somewhere around a quarter of a billion dollars into the local economy," he said, "and this will definitely add to that."