Tourism plan gets shaky start

Former Mayor and City Commissioner George Gardner, Editor of the St. Augustine Report, says that while our County Commission wasn’t thrilled with the Phase I report for a county Master Destination Plan, Mayor Joe Boles was “pleased to see the consultants moving toward our city’s own conclusions” on strengths and weaknesses in our city’s heritage program.

The mayor and city commissioners sat through the last of three presentations Tuesday evening, which began earlier in the day with strong criticism by our county commissioners.

“The raising of awareness of America’s growing Hispanic population, the elevating of our city’s African-American history, the need to develop better wayfinding and stronger orientation in our Visitor Center – we’re at work on all of these,” Boles said.

As a golfer, he was surprised to see the low percentage of visitors who come to play golf – 7%, and noted the consultants “left out the religious aspect, certainly a major element of our history.”

“They had a lot of surveys and information from other areas,” Boles concluded. “They’ll discover a lot more about us when they get into more discussion with our local community.”

The report echoed an assessment of the National Trust for Historic Preservation five years ago about the “fractious nature” of our diverse county, noting that major hoteliers “perceived that bed tax goes mostly for St. Augustine, not Ponte Vedra,” where a major portion of bed taxes are collected. The current consultants commented, “The fractious nature of the destination – geographically, financially, and psychographically – (suggests considering) allocation of some funding geographically based on each area’s tax contribution.”

The $300,000 study, funded by the Tourist Development Council (TDC), has three phases: analysis, which was scheduled for completion this month; plan development, due in July, and implementation – the final document – in September. TDC Director Glenn Hastings said after the first round, “Hard work remains to be done.”

Comments