Monday, June 09, 2014

St. Augustine Record Guest Column: "Is St. Augustine being 'loved to death'?"

Guest Column: Is St. Augustine being 'loved to death'?
Posted: June 8, 2014 - 12:08am

St. Augustine Valdes is a candidate running for St. Augustine City Commission, Seat 4

I cannot agree more wholeheartedly with the editorial on the May 30 opinion page regarding tourism and the future of St. Augustine’s biggest and most unique attraction — our history.

Executive Director of the Tourist Development Council Glenn Hastings is absolutely spot-on with his comment that, “It’s time that we listen to our tourists and our visitors.” Hastings’ observation, at the St. Augustine Vision meeting, that the studies are showing that “commercialization is a big, big problem” certainly resonates with me and a lot of other St. Augustine citizens I have spoken with.

It begs this fundamental question: If we are a city that is about, or should be about, heritage tourism, why should we be even entertaining the idea of diversifying into non-St. Augustine history tourist attractions? Are we now allowing into our town attractions that should be in Daytona or elsewhere in Florida? I, like many other citizens of St. Augustine, think the answer is yes.

The wrong attractions within the city limits will and does detract from our primary and very unique tourist draw — our history. If we compromise the history of St. Augustine by too much diversification, we become just like any other coastal Florida tourist town.

Further, some types of tourist attractions can also negatively impact the quality of life of citizens who live in our residential neighborhoods.

Visitors come to St. Augustine, not just for the commercial area, any weekend will prove that. They also enjoy the scale, ambience and the architecture when walking around — or, unfortunately, more and more frequently, zooming through our residential neighborhoods.

The health of our residential neighborhoods is vital if we’re to maintain and continue to offer the real and sought-after St. Augustine history experience. I’ve had so many visitors tell me that they love St. Augustine because it’s real — people live here and it’s like stepping back in time. If we do not maintain the quality of our residential neighborhoods, then those historic homes and buildings do not get restored and taken care of. The money for restoration is in the private sector. It does not come from the government, contrary to many people’s belief. We need and must maintain the quality of life and the health of our neighborhoods in order to help maintain a viable commercial draw for our heritage tourism.

St. Augustine does history, and we do it well.

But we need to concentrate on doing it better: Much better.

We cannot put the genie back into the bottle that we have been discovered, and we are going to have to deal with it.

We, as a city, are under the threat of being loved to death, which does not have to be a bad thing. We need to take stock and focus on what we are good at, and get better doing that and finding solutions to the problems that we face.

We neither have to discover who we are, nor reinvent ourselves. We only have to remain true to what we’ve always been — which is a city that does history well.


Robert Fliegel 06/08/14 - 09:26 am 00Sources of restoration funding
"The money for restoration is in the private sector. It does not come from the government, contrary to many people’s belief."

Is this the case in all historic American cities? Are there any such cities where preservation funds come at least in part from city or state budgets?

Clara Waldhari 06/08/14 - 12:47 pm 31BRAVO!!! AUTHENTICITY RULES!
Kudos to John Valdes for his timely and passionate column on the need to retain authenticity/our authentic identity in all aspects of our heritage tourism -- and in neighborhoods in our city. (Made me want to shout out loud, "NO MORE ZONING PUDs! EVER!")

"loved to death"? Yes, I believe so. In our haste to grow the "fiesta market," we have set aside who and what we really are.

We cannot be all things to all people. Let them visit Mr. Disney for that.

St. Augustine is unique. Our unembellished story is GOOD ENOUGH to stand with other stories of endurance throughout history.

John Valdes has it right. Thank you for a splendid and thought-provoking piece.

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