MARATHON, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Marathon, Fla. on Valhalla Island. The conference on the island comes a month after Hurricane Ian made landfall. Signage at the event read “Florida: Fishing Capital of the World.” The governor announced a new Bass Pro fishing resort to Marathon.
In addition to the development announcement, the governor awarded $1.3 million from the Job Growth Grant Fund to the City of Marathon, to “support widening Highway US-1 and Banana Boulevard.”
The governor spoke about how people come from all over the world to fish in Florida, noting the high number of Bass Pro shops in the state.
The event included Secretary Dane Eagle from the Department of Economic Opportunity and Bass Pro CEO Johnny Morris.
Morris spoke after the governor, thanking him for being there for the announcement, and for standing up for the future of fishing and the environment.
“I come from as far away from the ocean as you can get, Springfield, Miss.,” Morris said. “I remember years ago coming down with my dad in high school coming down to Bud and Mary’s Marina.”
Morris said he and his father fished for perch and tarpon, and that he had happy memories, his parents having bought a home in Key Colony Beach.
“Today, we welcome the neighbors here,” Morris said, pointing out members of the Everglades Foundation. “We welcome the fishing community because, Bass Pro, we are fishing, fishing, fishing,” and also thanked “neighbors” living in the area for decades. “This governor, DeSantis, couldn’t have come here today and not at the beginning say thank you.”
Referring to Hurricane Ian and the state’s recovery effort, Morris said his sister had gotten helped thanks to the efforts of DeSantis and the support of the state government after the storm, and also pointed out conservation efforts in Florida under his governorship.
“I don’t know if everybody here realizes, but the governor has been a steadfast supporter of conservation, in a common sense sort of way,” Morris said. “I don’t know if anybody realizes but he helped support and just signed the largest conservation budget in the state of Florida.”
Morris said the event on Valhalla Island was to begin a project not just for making money but a project of passion.
“The Keys are a treasure, this land is a treasure, and we want to keep it that way,” Morris said. “We want to treat it that way, and keep it that way, and have a place where people come and enjoy fishing, enjoy nature, and have the kids come and learn about the environment and take care of it.”
Continuing, Morris said the development would focus on building it in a way that would “do right by the environment” and support the local fishing community.
A spokesperson for Bass Pro spoke about the central nature of conservancy to how the company operates under Morris’ leadership, and that the company had a big commitment to the state of Florida. He said investment in Florida had been significant for decades, all across the state.
The planning details for the resort development includes workforce housing and conservation efforts, according to Tim Mahoney, also of Bass Pro. He said they’ve incorporated sustainability strategies that were “all the model” for what can be done with technology.
“We have geothermal, we have solar energy, we have water reclamation, this property is being developed on a very low density basis, where over half of it is going to be retained in green space,” Mahoney said. “We will be building in wetland areas, boardwalks that will allow people to be educated about the Florida Keys and these vegetative and habitat environments.”
The development will also partner with various research labs to allow visitors to become “engaged” with understanding the coral virus. He said 110 units of cottages and small lodging building, as well as a few restaurants, will be built. Vehicles will be parked up at the highway and the property will remain vehicle-free aside from all-terrain vehicles, to “keep this as a nature-based resort.”
It’s expected 300 people will get full-time jobs once the work is completed, and charter fishing will also be available to give guests the “Florida Keys experience.”
Sec. Eagle spoke next, saying the job creation would be “monumental” and thanked the governor for his efforts in conservation and resiliency, highlighting grants for construction of resiliency developments. After Eagle spoke, DeSantis returned to the podium to briefly discuss storm recovery and relief efforts, highlighting First Lady Casey DeSantis’ fundraising drive following Hurricane Ian.
He repeated previous commentary about the response teams and reconstruction crews that were positioned before the storm and the fast response times they’d had in restoring power and bridge access to impacted areas.
DeSantis said the state would continue with redevelopment and construction efforts, as well as storm resiliency projects, in addition to the fishing resort’s development. The governor said he was excited for the development, then left. There was no question and answer session with gathered media.