Monday, November 24, 2008

Economy could impact city's 450th

Economy could impact city's 450th

But planners hope funding for anniversary will continue at current level

Publication Date: 11/23/08

Despite a forecasted 10 percent drop in tourism money this year, the Tourist Development Council hopes to put away $300,000 annually until 2015 for the city's 450th birthday.

The TDC also wants to spend $20,000 to hire Jeanne Zeidler as a consultant for St. Augustine's celebration. She was executive director of Virginia's Jamestown's 400th anniversary in 2007.

The TDC is anticipating in fiscal year 2009 the county will see a 10 percent drop in bed-tax revenues, a decline of $5.9 million to roughly $5.4 million, according to documents from TDC analyst Brian London.

Glenn Hastings, TDC director, said he hopes to continue to put aside $300,000 for the city's celebration each year even with the tough economy.

"We may not be able to keep giving that much because of the economy, but that's our goal," he said.

The information and proposals came out of a recent TDC meeting, where County Commission Chairwoman Cyndi Stevenson recommended Dana Ste. Claire return as Development Council chairman.

In 2007, the commission decided to make Commissioner Tom Manuel, who is now under suspension, TDC chair, and they asked Ste. Claire to step down. Manuel headed the group until Gov. Charlie Crist suspended him after he was charged with accepting $60,000 in bribes. His trial is scheduled for January.

Ste. Claire, Historic Tours of America's National Director of Museums, said he was glad to see the position given back to a member of the tourist industry.

"We were all a little concerned that someone who wasn't fully immersed in the industry (was running the TDC)," he said. "The industry representatives are the people who know it the best."

In the meeting, TDC also discussed spending $100,000 start a visitor's bureau in Ponte Vedra in preparation for the city's big celebration. It would be run by its Chamber of Commerce,

St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles requested Ziedler be brought on, and the City Commission has already approved it. Now it will go before the St. Johns County Commission for the final go ahead.

Jamestown had a $42 million budget over 12 years as well as $100 million in infrastructure improvements, and its event garnered international attention.

Boles said having Zeidler's expertise will save the city "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel, and we won't make any mistakes they did," he said. "We won't waste time, and we can hit the ground running."

Zeidler would be stationed at City Hall for about a week and said she has already put together a proposed blueprint for St. Augustine's event. She also visited the city in June and met with city commissioners.

As the city's consultant, Zeidler would "gather a range of community leaders to see what they (want in the celebration)," she said.

"The most important thing is to be inclusive of all elements in your community," she said. "You have to think about what this can do for your community."

Hastings said stashing away money for the city's celebration will be similar to what the TDC did for the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville.

He said tourism has been down the last couple months. The slow season will take a bite out of the TDC's usual reserve fund kept for emergencies such as hurricane season or wildfires similar to those in 1998. Hastings said he likes the fund to be between $350,000-$500,000, but this year it will likely be about $300,000.

"Clearly people are still coming to visit, but they're not spending as much," he said.

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