St. Augustine strives for fresh face on history

By Tiffanie Reynolds|

Historic Downtown St. Augustine will now get much needed restoration under the management of University of Florida.

The university was selected as part of a bill arranged by State Rep. William Proctor, who thought a partnership would better fund the projects without taxing the city.

“It occurred to me at the time that Pensacola has a number of houses of this type and that the state provides some money for their maintenance through the University of West Florida. I raised that issue and the city commission asked to see if we could pass comparable legislation,” said Proctor, District 20 Florida House Representative.

The bill, which was passed in 2007, gives the University of Florida the power to manage 34 buildings and 33 parcels of land in the historic downtown area. It also makes all artifacts, documents and equipment the property of University of Florida.

University of Florida’s purpose is to restore historic buildings as well as implement a new visitor experience, according to the St. Augustine Historic Area strategic plan.

“I think they felt like we had a better chance of historic interpretation and restoration of those facilities,” said Ed Poppell, vice president for Business Affairs and Economic Development at University of Florida.

Working with the National Park Service, University of Florida is planning a new tourist program called Layers of History, which will take visitors from the Spanish discovery and colonization of St. Augustine to the city’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

The focal point of this program will be an Interpretive Center built across the Castillo de San Marcos. Inside, visitors will receive an introduction to “the civilian story and the military story” of St. Augustine. It will serve as an interactive museum, giving tourists an overview of the city as well as encouraging them to visit other historic buildings to learn more, according to the St. Augustine Historic Area strategic plan.

Since 2007, University of Florida has created a Direct Support Organization (DSO) to funnel some capital funding to the restoration of the 34 historic buildings.

“We have established a separate corporation to take care of St. Augustine,” said Poppell.

With the start of restoration last July, University of Florida has already spent $100,000 and renovated nine facilities, including the Government House. They have repainted, replaced the wrought iron on the balconies, and restored the stairwell, among other changes.

Other renovations will be happening in the next couple of years, depending on the amount of funding every year.

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