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Letter: The 800-pound Gorilla in the room

July 16, 2014 | By More
ELECT Todd Neville
RON BERBEN

RON BERBEN

Letter: The 800-pound Gorilla in the room

Ron Berben
Candidate for St Augustine City Commission
St Augustine, FL

Dear Editor:

As long as I have lived downtown I have understood what it is that attracts people from all over the country and the world into our historic city. Much of what visitors to our city are interested in looking at and spending money on is in a roughly twenty block section in the heart of our most historic city’s core.

With the expansion of Flagler College and its latest construction project on Cordova St., I think many residents are beginning to get alarmed and realize something needs to be done. Will your children and my grandchildren eventually have nothing left to visit?

I fear that if we allow the college to sustain their current rate of growth in the historic preservation district, what remains of private and commercial property will be removed from the tax rolls and placed “off limits” to tourism.

Eventually visitors to our city will be welcomed with this message:

Welcome to Historic Downtown St. Augustine
located on the campus of Flagler College
NO TRESPASSING

I am not naive, understanding the positive impact that Flagler College has on our city and the influx of students and staff and I also understand that Flagler College is simply doing what is good for Flagler College. The blame lays more with our city’s board members for allowing an entity who may or may not have the city’s historic assets as their first and foremost priority to acquire and forever remove the most precious and non-renewable resource we own.

This responsibility should be felt by every resident of the city, shared by each of us and reflected directly by the actions of our representatives and those appointed members of the boards.

I have a son that attends there, so I am not anti-Flagler College, I just feel that there is an appropriate place for everything. I am no fan of vacant lots and abandoned buildings on downtown property either, but we have to think about the big picture before these are gone for good.

How has Flagler College been able to continuously acquire property in the historic sector of our city and receive approval from our city’s boards to construct its campus there for over 25 years basically unchecked?

If you or I built a beautiful masterpiece of a Colonial Spanish reproduction building, sparing no expense to last 200 years as a private residence, the public would have about as much access to it, however, we would have to endure a property tax bill that the school does not.

I think it is time that incentives should be put into place to encourage Flagler College to consider other areas of our city that could really benefit from their new buildings and campus expansion.

As a non-partisan candidate for the City of St Augustine Commission, Ron Berben has approved and paid for this announcement. Berben appears on the August 26th Primary Election ballot to fill the vacant seat currently held by Don Crichlow. He faces opposition from Todd Neville and John Valdes.

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