State wants city to pay for or replace land

When he returned from meetings in Tallahassee before a panel of state agencies that makes recommendations on the use of state-owned land, City Manager John Regan was said to have won preliminary support from the Florida Acquisition and Restoration Council to transfer land to the National Park Service.

The City of St. Augustine wants to package a parcel of city-owned land together with state-owned property and transfer it to the National Park Service for the proposed Castillo Orientation Center.

In an unexpected twist announced late in the regular city commission meeting Monday night, Historic City News learned that State staff had notified city officials that day that it must sign a contract agreeing to replace state-owned land needed for a Castillo Orientation Center, or, pay its estimated $588,000 value in order to get on the agenda of the aides to the Internal Improvement Trust Fund when they meet on September 8th.

If all goes the way the city hopes, the Governor and his Cabinet will meet to make their decision on September 14th; Regan plans to attend both sessions.

“This is an incredible hiccup based on our discussion with the Acquisition and Restoration Council,” Regan said, referring to assurances by that board twelve days ago that it would not push for compensation, but rather let the trustees decide.

If approval is granted for the land transfer, Regan acknowledges that “adjustments are needed” to accommodate the city’s Visitor Information Center, Colonial Spanish Quarter and other historic assets across a four-lane highway from our largest asset — the Castillo de San Marcos.

In a meeting that droned on until after 11:00 p.m. Monday night, Vice Mayor Errol Jones seemed prepared to take up the fight, saying “This is not the trustees, this is staff.”

Commissioner Leanna Freeman was not prepared to debate the contract, saying “I’m not going to commit half a million dollars without hearing from the public.”

“It’s after 11:00 p.m.,” Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline added. “There’s no public here. That’s wrong.”

Boles said, “We have to have National Park Service assurance that any expense will be covered by future revenues” referring to joint ticket sales with the Spanish Quarter and higher parking fees in the Castillo parking lot shared with the city.

Commissioners decided against any action committing the city financially, but acted to cross out the reference to repaying $588,000 in three years, executed the contract and send it back to Tallahassee.

Regan promised his team would be focused on clarifying the issue.

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