Sunday, September 13, 2015

St. Augustine is a Magical Place

Editorial: Sum of 450th larger than its parts
Posted: September 13, 2015 - 12:19am
Aging editorial writers balk at the use of superlatives because they’re sappy. “Magical” is one. But we find ourselves reduced to doing just that, after having a few days of breathing room in the wake of the 450th celebration.
So let’s get it over and done with. It was simply magical.
Life, from time to time, pumps something special into, in this case, an event. There were hundreds of components to the celebration, all working upfront, or behind the scenes and simultaneously. You could, we suppose, try to count them in order to write an equation for the celebration’s success. But it would not work. From our talks with dozens of visitors and residents, the sum of the event transcended the parts.
Something higher happened here when the stew of culture, music, dance, history, art, food, fun, remembrance, religion and more, were dusted with the final seasoning of breathtaking beauty and flip-flop funk. We are a very cool town. And one could argue that she has never been prettier, all gussied up for the birthday bash. Flagler College gets extra points for its effort.
Visitors saw that.
But that’s not the neat part. Our own residents reclaimed ownership. Mayor Nancy Shaver pegged it, saying what struck her most was “our people rediscovering the delight of our city.”
But while some of the crowd were massaging memories here, all of us were making them as well.
Jennifer Zuberer was on the 450th Commemoration team and said what she’ll never forget was driving in to work Friday morning from the Island, rather than her normal route west of town. When she crested the Bridge of Lions and saw the stages set up in the morning light “I got goose bumps. ... That had never been done.” Lots of things we saw and did last week have never been done — until now.
Another theme we heard over and over again was how happy the crowds were. It did seem infectious. Shaver said one thing that struck her was noticing so few people glued to cellphones. They had something better to watch, and it was us.
Wanda Bray of the city’s communications team told us, “It amazes me that this multi-day event can triple the population of our city (daily), and we have fewer arrests” than a normal night. “No one was crazy. They (the police) really never had a problem.”
The other theme we heard repeatedly was how clean the city was: Trash everywhere at midnight, but sparkling clean when the sun rose. It was exemplary from that standpoint.
If you’ve ever been on the streets of New Orleans on any “morning after” you’ll clearly recall the garbage and the scent of stale beer and digestive discharge wafting through the French Quarter. Not here. It was like the night before never happened. But the whole event was seamless. It seemed effortless, yet it was anything but.
That comes only from a true community effort. In the end, local businesses pumped $230,000 in contributions, while hundreds more spruced up, stocked up and welcomed the crowds. Clubs and nonprofits were key.
Residents brought friends to town for the event, or helped those visitors on the streets with suggestions, directions or a simple “welcome.”
Our people became, in effect, the ambassadors of the celebration. And even many who grumbled early on received an emotional payday.
Visitors were clearly happy and engaged in St. Augustine’s story. Residents were happy, too, but they also seemed proud to be residents of the city that made this all happen.
That gauges the success of the event infinitely better than hotel occupancy or page views.
In hindsight, what we truly celebrated was ourselves.
We did it splendidly.
And, yes, a little magically as well.

attinson63 09/13/15 - 12:13 pm 01Beautifully said
This writer could not have said it better herself. Such a good, good feeling from every minute I spent downtown over the weekend. As a 10-year resident, I am truly proud of my little village and the party we pulled off. It was wonderfully magical, and thanks for using that word. I am so happy to live here and to be a part of Celebrate 450!

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