Anniversary looks to help local economy

St. Augustine hopes to attract vistors to celebrate 450 years

By Erica Eding |
Photo by Erica Eding

PHOTO CAPTION: The statue of Pedro Menendez, the founder of St. Augustine, stands outside the Lightner Museum downtown.

A party is rarely serious business. St. Augustine’s 450th anniversary, on the other hand, could bring millions of dollars in revenue to a city that is suffering from the decline in tourism.
The city is hoping to attract national and even international visitors to the event. But during an economic downturn, tourists will need an incentive to travel and spend money. For this reason, city officials have begun planning for a state of the art experience.

“This is no single day event,” Dana Ste. Claire, the interim director of the anniversary, said. The celebration will begin in 2013, which is 500 years after Juan Ponce de León officially discovered Florida. The event will continue through 2015, the 450th anniversary of the year that Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine.

The city plans to build an exhibition center that will highlight St. Augustine’s Spanish and indigenous heritage. There are also plans to construct a replica of the ship used by Menéndez and to sail it from the conquistador’s hometown of Avilés, Spain.

If the anniversary is successful, the revenue it brings to the city could be measures in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Don Crichlow, a city commissioner, said. The event will so large that the king and queen of Spain may attend.

“There has even been talk of the pope making a visit,” Crichlow said.

International tourists flooding the city would help make up for the economic stress that St. Augustine is under.

But Ste. Claire said the anniversary will also have a profound long-term impact on St. Augustine.

“If we attract new visitors,” Ste. Claire said, “then we ante up the audience that comes back to see us.”

In order to turn the one-time anniversary tourists into loyal visitors, the city plans to analyze the aspects of St. Augustine that residents most admire and use them to their advantage.

Nancy Sikes-Kline, a city commissioner, said “To me, this celebration is as much about an opportunity for us to rediscover our sense of place as it is to impact our economy.”

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