Thursday, February 26, 2009

Expert OK'd for 450th

Expert OK'd for 450th

Consultant will receive $20,000

Publication Date: 02/23/09

The St. Johns County Commission decided a few weeks ago that if they're going to plan a big celebratory bash, they should hire an expert to help with the details.

St. Augustine's 450th birthday will occur in 2015, and the city, the county and the Tourist Development Council are teaming up early to plan events to make the occasion sparkle.

Glenn Hastings, executive director of the TDC, said, "This is more than a birthday celebration. It will give world and national attention to centuries of history."

The answer to the commission's request wasn't long in coming.

Jeanne Zeidler, mayor of Williamsburg, Va., will be paid $20,000 to come, study and write a guide to this event for planners, not for visitors.

Zeidler's considered an expert because she was head also of Jamestown 2007, which put on the successful 400th birthday of Jamestown, a city that in St. Augustine is considered a johnny-come-lately whippersnapper. St. Augustine was founded in 1565, Jamestown in 1607.

Former St. Augustine Mayor George Gardner once said, "The first child born in St. Augustine was a grandmother by the time Jamestown was founded."

Hastings said Zeidler will consider the economic development, tourism, infrastructure improvements and blueprint that will be necessary to mount such a huge undertaking, as well as its economic impact to the county.

"Based on her perspective, (she) is uniquely qualified to help us with this," he said.

According to the terms of the county's contract, she'll put in 160 hours of work with local groups and the state, even on an earlier celebration in 2013 celebrating Ponce de Leon's 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida.

Commissioner Ken Bryan, wondering why the county was hiring so far afield, said, "Are we saying that no one in the county has the expertise? The contract seems very vague."

The contract was first approved by the St. Augustine City Commission, then sent to the county for approval.

The contract is on the City Commission's consent agenda for today's meeting. Items on consent may be approved without further discussion. However, the City Commission may put the item on the discussion agenda for review of any changes the county made to Zeidler's contract.

City Attorney Ron Brown said Zeidler's job will be more difficult here because she'll be required to "mesh with" several government entities, not just one.

"She has the type of expertise we need to balance those special interests," he said. "Her report will be extensive and she will include an appendix from the Jamestown celebration that will serve as a model for St. Augustine. This is just the start of several years of planning."


The St. Augustine City Commission meets at 5 p.m. today in the Alcazar Room at City Hall, 75 King St.

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