Monday, August 16, 2010

St. Augustine Record Editorial: 450th fundraising finally has foundation

450th fundraising finally has foundation
Posted: August 13, 2010 - 12:00am

Three years out from St. Augustine's 450th birthday celebration and finally a nonprofit fundraising organization is in place to support it: First America Inc., a community-based organization.

Monday night, the City Commission officially separated city government from running the 450th celebration, the grand round of events, 2013-2015, honoring the nation's oldest permanently occupied European settlement in today's United States.

A little more than a month after City Manager John Regan said the city cannot wait any longer on the federal 450th Commemoration -- authorized in 2009 but not active yet, the local foundation is a reality. It comes complete with $275,000 in seed money from the city -- its former 450th operating money and then some.

For more than four years, city officials talked about the celebration and garnering private support, created a steering committee of local high-profile public officials and private sector leaders, and produced with grant support, the highly successful free series, Legacies of La Florida. Other than a few briefings, there's been little community visibility to the 450th efforts.

The city, in our view, has almost waited too long to get started, pinning too many hopes on the federal commission whose main charge is to raise major funding nationwide and beyond for the celebration, and to provide grants to public and private celebration plans. The commission is supposed to be announced next month. We know the federal nominees had to be vetted before appointment but this process has gone on way too long. We'll believe it when we finally see it.

As positive as Mayor Joe Boles is about the celebration and its impact, he recently showed frustration over the delay saying that Jamestown 2007's federal funds flowed for seven years at $400,000 a year. St. Augustine is supposed to get $500,000 for six years but the first year has come and gone without that support. Our initiative had to hit during the nation's worst recession.

Having First America Inc. a reality is a relief, no doubt, to the City Commission. However, City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline raised concerns Monday if the commission could "bless the bylaws." Her reasoning was the city is giving seed money to the foundation from tax dollars. City Attorney Ron Brown said the city would not have that kind of control but could terminate its funding agreement at any time. Sikes-Kline's comments have merit. Public dollars should never be expended without some oversight.

Regan has given his assurance and so has Don Wallis, tapped by Regan to organize the foundation, that transparency will be a priority. We'll take their word for it.

A local foundation has success written all over it. With First America Inc. in action, there's no doubt St. Augustine's 450th is over the hump.

How to help

Donations to First America Inc. may be mailed to 780 North Ponce de Leon Blvd., St. Augustine, FL 32084. For in-kind contributions or questions, contact Jamie Alvarez, director of National and Community Relations, at 829-9066 or via e-mail at

Comments (3)
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Over the Hump ?
By mubbob | 08/13/10 - 06:53 am

More like GETTING the Hump. That's what the Citizens are on the receivng end of this birthday bash. In 2016, after millions of dollars are spent, what then? Will there still be potholes on Riberia Street, homeless on the seawall, panhandling in the Plaza, orange water for Davis Shores residents to drink. Everyone, including the RECORD, seems focused on the money and the event itself, not the core issues of the City. When I hear whining about federal dollars not being granted to this City as to other Cities, it reminds me of " keeping up with the Jones" only in this case it is "keeping up with the Jamestowns". Does the City really need its own "commerative coin" that the Mayor sees as a great revenue generator.? a seven color commerative collector's item poster, suitable for framing? an offical t-shirt,available from size s to 3xxl ? So far, an offfical "mascot, complete with costume" has not been created, but I can see it coming. Can anyone still name the mascots for any of the Olympic Games? anyone?
All said and done, in 2016, the City will not be better off by the money spent on this event. I am sure there are good people with good intentions, but in the grand scheme of life, this celebration will be like other "major" events and the tourist will leave here with a ho hum feeling about their travels and the residents will be left with an dumpster full of trash and an empty new Interpertative Center.
I apologize for being cynical, but when the last words are " trust me" and the RECORD endorses this, then I have to start to really get worried that all this money could be better used than a grand event that will pass in an instant without some tangible results for the residents of the City & County who will endure 5 years of planning.
Has anyone tried to visit downtown when a large festival is held on Francis Field? anyone experienced the several hour gridlock on May Street? Seen the Bridge of Lions go up and traffic back up past the Alligator Farm? tried to make a left turn on any downtown street or a find a parking space? These are NORMAL events that the City cannot now, or at least have not appeared to be able to handle. How can we trust them to handle an event of this magnitude?
First Ameria, Inc. will be a 13 panel commitee of distinguished minds and talent, no doubt. all good people with good intentions, I just wish they would focus their talents on the issues of the City and not the frosting on the cake.

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The whole point...
By jackiejones | 08/13/10 - 08:25 am

of transparency is so we don't have to take "their word on it".

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Delegation to First America Foundation is a Sunshine violation new
By EdSlavin | 08/16/10 - 07:02 pm

Well put, Jackie Jones. I agree.

The Record should not endorse contributions to an organization that does not have a 501(c)(3) and has been given City funds in violation of Sunshine law principles. Our City was in a hurry, with Don Wallis or someone stating to the Secretary of State's office, "Pls Rush." What's the rush? Why the rush to hand over $275,000 to a private group from our City fisc?

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