The clock is ticking for those making a buck on the streets of Key West to comply with a new law requiring all street performers and artists to have insurance. Saturday marks the end of a 60-day grace period, and entertainers must have a minimum of $300,000 of liability insurance by then.
The law was designed to bring street entertainers in line with other groups, such as taxis, pedicabs and street food vendors, all of whom are required to have similar liability policies, said Jim Young, the city's Code Compliance manager.
"We probably won't start enforcement until Monday, since the deadline falls on Saturday," Young said.
Violators initially will receive a courtesy notice giving them 10 days to comply; after that they will be issued a notice to appear at a hearing before a special magistrate, he said.
"He could grant a compliance period, but it's all up to him," Young said of the magistrate. "If anyone chooses not to obtain the insurance following that, then a daily fine could be levied for every day they are noncompliant, up to $250 a day."
Byron Gronvold, an account executive with Porter Allen Insurance Co. in Key West, said he has issued several policies, which he is offering for about $320 annually.
"I believe the premiums that they are being quoted are reasonable," said Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh, who authored the ordinance, then amended it after street performers complained no one would cover them because of a clause that required insurers to pay all claims without exclusions.
Now that the language of the ordinance has been clarified, getting the insurance is attainable -- technically.
"There are some in the (street entertainment) community that simply can't afford the insurance," Patrick Specher, head of the Key West Artists and Street Performers Association, said Thursday. "I've spent a lot of time and money working all of this out myself."
On Wednesday, Specher bought coverage through Gronvold from Porter Allen. On Thursday, Specher received a call from Gronvold stating that the owner of Porter Allen, David Freeman, is declining to insure any street entertainers, include those who already purchased coverage.
"He doesn't feel comfortable with the ordinance as it stands. He was never really championing this in the first place," Gronvold said Thursday. "In his defense, I was the one who spearheaded this through. But he's the owner and he can do what he wants. He feels I've overstepped my bounds."
That matters little to Specher, who was under the impression that he was insured.
"I'm furious that the owner is trying to do this," Specher said. "If he continues with the idea that they are going to drop us after we've already signed up and paid, we'll sue him."
Gronvold couldn't cite a specific number of clients signed up under this type of policy, but he said it was fewer than 10.
"We're not going to let anyone suffer out there," Gronvold said. "We'll return any and all monies to them."
Specher shuttled back and forth with the mayor, city attorney and insurer on the issue over the last week and a half, trying to get everything worked out, he said.
Young said there are five insurers nationwide who have coverage policies for entities such as street performers and artists. One is based in Key West: Island Insurance Agency.
Many in the street-entertainment community thought the ulterior motive of the original ordinance was to oust them, which city officials have denied.
"There is no conspiracy theory, no collusion," Young said. "A lot of concessions have been made to accommodate them. But the city has to protect itself. We're not here to put anyone out of business."
City officials say they just want to protect everyone involved when there is an incident, like when a tourist complained that a street performer's lemur bit her in the face last month. Stock Island resident Kurt Tomecek lets Batman pose on people's shoulders for a $20 photo.
Cherish A. Giannetta, a resident of Egg Harbour Township, N.J., complained to Code Compliance, but the city had no jurisdiction because Tomecek was on private property on Duval Street.
"Had the lemur situation happened on the city right of way is a prime example of why the insurance component is so important to this ordinance -- to protect the city, the permit holder (street entertainers) and the public," Ramsingh said.