City delegation meets with Secretary of Interior

St. Augustine local news reporters are learning that from Williamsburg to Washington and from St. Augustine to Spain, the 450th Commemoration message is traveling worldwide in preparation for the grand anniversary of our historic city; set for 2013-2015.

The first few months of 2010 has kept the staff of the 450th Commemoration busy with organizational meetings, infrastructure projects, committee assignments, and program planning. It’s all part of laying the ground work for an extensive, community wide effort to showcase St. Augustine’s rich history.

Since its earliest planning, recognizing our relationship with Spain through our very close relationship with our sister city of Avilés, Spain has been recognized as a critical element in the commemoration to help ensure accuracy, inclusiveness, and international support.

In February, the city hosted an official delegation from Aviles. Vice-Mayor Fernando Ranon and Councilman Roman Alvarez were honored guests at the annual Menendez Noche de Gala as well as spending time in a city-to-city meeting with St. Augustine officials. It was suggested during that meeting that a representative from Aviles join the regional steering committee for the 450th commemoration, and so an invitation was extended to Ms. Pilar Varela, Mayor of Aviles to serve as that city’s representative.

A key leadership component of the 450th commemoration lies in the federally created St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission. The 14-member commission’s member will be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior based on nominations from a variety of sources. In early March, St. Augustine Mayor Boles along with 450th Executive Director Dana Ste. Claire and Chief Operations Officer John Regan had the opportunity to meet with Secretary Ken Salazar in his office in Washington, D. C. The group discussed the pending nominations and the Secretary was updated on recent commemoration developments, including infrastructure improvements and the strategic plan. From all accounts of the meeting, it seems evident that the establishment of this federal commission, the St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission, is very near.

With news of the Oldest City’s anniversary spreading nationally, many organizations and groups have expressed an interest in the event including the Director of External and Government Relations for the Interior, Ray Rivera. (Rivera is overseeing the planning and implementation of the National Museum for the American Latino an initiative under the leadership of Henry R. Muñoz III, Susan Gonzales, Emilio Estefan, and Eva Longoria-Parker.)

While in Washington, Mayor Boles and staff also met with Mr. Rivera to discuss exhibit potential and the important role that Spanish St. Augustine played in the development of the United States. More meetings with Rivera are being scheduled in Miami, where he hopes to discuss the expansion of this project in more detail.

Certainly the first program produced by the 450th Commemoration has been a huge success far beyond anyone’s anticipation. Discover First America; Legacies of La Florida, has offered its initial five programs to standing room only audiences at Flagler College’s auditorium. Each program draws a focus on one period in time of the city’s history telling that period’s stories through expert speakers, authentic dramatic presentations and skilled artisans.

Another St. Augustine delegation comprised of Vice-Mayor Errol Jones, 450th Steering Committee member Charles Ellis, Dana Ste. Claire, and Jamie Alvarez, Program Coordinator for the 450th Commemoration, visited Dr. Patrick Coggins, Professor of Multicultural Education Institute at Stetson University to discuss his involvement in the Commemoration and the First America program series. He’s been involved in several projects relating to Civil Rights, Multicultural Education and race relations. Dr. Coggins will be working with the office to create more programs for the May 18 Road to Freedom Program.

There are two more programs in the series: “Palaces in Paradise: Flagler’s Age of Opulence,” on April 13 and “Road to Freedom; African-Americans in Florida,” on May 18. Both programs begin at 7 p.m. at Flagler College Auditorium.

Pictured L-R; John Regan, Chief Operations Officer, City of St. Augustine; Dana Ste. Claire, Executive Director of the 450th Commemoration; Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior; Joseph Boles, Mayor of the City of St. Augustine; Bill Leary, St. Augustine resident and former employee of the Department of the Interior

Photo credit: © 2010 Historic City News contributed photograph: City of St. Augustine

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