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Next stop, Margaritaville? Key West residents push to rename airport for Jimmy Buffett

By Arianna Otero, Palm Beach Post,


Someday, in the not-so distant future, you may find yourself in the presence of Jimmy Buffett as soon as your plane touches down at Key West International Airport.

Following the Sept. 1 death of the musician who helped put the Florida Keys into the public imagination, multiple Key West and Monroe County natives are signing a petition to rename the airport to Jimmy Buffett International Airport.

Buffett was a singer-songwriter famous for tropical-themed songs such as “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Aside from his own life, he gained his inspiration for his ballads from his time in Key West, arriving back in 1971 from Nashville.

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Key West would inspire Buffett's 1974 album “A1A,” named for the highway that connects them to the Florida mainland, and his enterprise, which emulated the coastal tropical vibes of Florida’s southernmost point.

Later in life, after earning millions through his songs, his restaurants and resorts named after his hit “Margaritaville” and merchandise, in 2011 Buffett purchased a home in Palm Beach, which he would later sell in 2020.

Naming Key West airport for Jimmy Buffett a long process

The petition was started by Brad Russell on Sept. 4 and has already garnered about 21, 200 signatures. It has also led to a viral photo where one Key West resident decided to take matters into his own hands by placing hand-cut vinyl letters onto the existing airport sign, titling it "Key West-Jimmy Buffett International Airport."

"A friend of mine called me … and he turns (the camera) around, and on the airport sign, it says 'Jimmy Buffett' and he put it on both sides, and he said, ‘I wanted to show you. Don't tell anybody,’ " Key West resident Paul Menta said. "I figure it's really just a way to honor, because I'm not sure if this is going to happen."

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Menta has been a resident of Key West for 35 years and was in charge of coordinating the Sept. 3 parade in the Keys that celebrated Buffett's legacy. He said the petition came about following the parade, but he's aware it will take more than just emotion to change the airport’s name.

"There's a lot of traction, of course. … I went to talk to our county commissioner," said Menta. "He was explaining to me that this is trademark-heavy stuff and a lot of the time there are royalties involved. He said then we need our constituents to approve."

Craig Cates is a Monroe County commissioner and also served as the mayor of Key West from 2009 to 2018. He got to know Buffett personally while serving as mayor, with Buffett visiting his office, attending local events, and even working together to promote the Coffee Butler amphitheater, which looks out on the Gulf of Mexico near Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park.

He said that despite the traction of the petition and his personal feelings, a lot needs to be done before the name can be changed on the airport, which has served nearly 1 million passengers already this year.

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"We also are respectful of the family, you know. They’re mourning their loss, and so we have to be respectful of that," he says. "Then the other part with the Federal Aviation Administration. We’re making sure that we'd be allowed to change the name, which we probably will but that's still a process."

Cates said that for now the county is in the preliminary steps of the move.

"Our attorney is reaching out to the CEO of Margaritaville Enterprises," says Cates. The rights of the Buffett name need to be taken into account before the airport can be renamed. There is also the question of costs, and legal issues that he says the county needs to take into account.

After this is done, the name change would go to the people of the county to decide upon. The name change will be made into a resolution that the commission will vote on and this will allow residents to have their voices heard outside of the petition.

Jimmy Buffett isn't only candidate for Key West airport name

Both Cates and Menta have mentioned that there has been slight pushback to the name change as many propose other famous figures for the airport, one in specific being Freddy Cabanas, a famous local pilot who performed aerobatic stunts for visitors at the airport.

"There's a lot of people in Key West that are important to the citizens and for the things they have done for the airport, so all that has to be taken into consideration," said Cates.

"At the end of the day, I'm always about what the majority wants," said Mentas. He said that regardless of whether the airport’s name changes, Key West will still remember Buffett regardless. “We’re mourning but we're not sad, we're celebrating."

"Key West has been the way Key West is for 200 years, that it really has just always been this weird, quirky place with a vibe … and I think Jimmy Buffett, having lived here actually, was the only one that went out there that actually had the right to say, ‘This is what Key West is all about.’ "

Arianna Otero is a breaking news reporter for The Palm Beach Post . You can reach her at or on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, at @ari_v_otero . Support local journalism: Subscribe today .

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Next stop, Margaritaville? Key West residents push to rename airport for Jimmy Buffett

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