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Could the Key West International Airport be renamed in Jimmy Buffett's honor?

With beach balls and bubbles in the air, event organizer, Paul Menta, right, lays out the plans for Sunday's 'It's 5 O'clock in Key West' parade.
Rob O'Neal
With beach balls and bubbles in the air, event organizer, Paul Menta, right, lays out the plans for Sunday's 'It's 5 O'clock in Key West' parade.

Imagine flying into Key West. It’s wheels down, and you’ve just arrived in paradise — at the Jimmy Buffett International Airport.

More than 19,000 people have signed a petition, created last week, to rename the Key West International Airport in honor of the singer-songwriter synonymous with the island, who died earlier this month.

The move would be a dream for fans, and Monroe County officials have told WLRN they are assessing whether the renaming would be legally possible.

"Jimmy Buffett moved us all and made us want to slide on our flip-flops and head to Key West to Margaritaville," reads the petition, started by Brad Russell.

"With his passing, there’s a hole in a lot of fans' hearts who would love to say they’re flying into Jimmy Buffett airport ... I believe Buffett being an aviator himself would be honored to have the airport he always called home to be named after him," the petition continued.

The singer not only lived for a period in Key West, which is said to have inspired his 'tropical rock' style and many of his songs including Margaritaville, but he famously also had a pilot's license and owned several planes.

READ MORE: Residents, fans celebrate Jimmy Buffett in Key West, the original Margaritavill

Monroe County Mayor Craig Cates says the county, which owns the Key West airport, is looking at the process. “I know there's a lot of emotion with this, but the reality of it is it'd be a long process and we'd have to work through it,” Cates said.

The renaming would have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and Margaritaville Holdings LLC — which is Buffett’s trademark that manages and franchises hotels, restaurants and merch.

If that works out, the proposal goes to the county Commission, who will hear public input and ultimately put the plan to a vote.

“Be patient. The support is wonderful. But to name something after him, especially as large as Key West International Airport would take time,” Cates says to fans.

The move is supported by locals such as businessman Paul Menta, who was among the organizers of a Key West street parade in Buffett's honor days after his death.

“At the end of the day, who doesn't want to have a delay or be laid over at Jimmy Buffett International Airport, Key West, and be forced to have a drink,” he said. “And then it's 5 o'clock somewhere right where you're at while you're waiting for your plane — I think there'll be a lot less angry people.”

But it appears some fans are not willing to wait. A tweet this week showed someone added hand-cut letters with tape that read “Jimmy Buffett” on the Key West International Airport sign over the weekend — which was reportedly removed by airport officials shortly after.

To continue honoring Buffett, Menta and the other parade organizers will hold a celebration in observance of Buffett’s life and legacy again next Labor Day. The money raised that day will be donated to the Bahama Village Music Program in Key West.

“I think all this has a silver lining and there's a positive in it — and I'm sure that's the way Jimmy Buffett would want it,” Menta said.

Ammy Sanchez, the Morning Edition producer for WLRN, studies communications at the Honors College at Florida International University.
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