The City of St Augustine held an open house last night at the Casa Monica Hotel where residents and business owners were invited to ask questions face-to-face with the folks who are responsible to make the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover operate smoothly.
Anxiety was high as guests began to enter the ballroom. After some stirring around, collecting literature, and conversation with city officials, like Chief of Police Loran Lueders, some of those who attended seemed placated — at least for the moment.
Chief Lueders told reporters that the most frequently asked question of him was by residents who want to know how to get to and from their homes. Lueders says that only non-residents are barred from most downtown streets during the performances.
Neighborhood Associations are distributing color-coded identification plaques, two per household, to identify those vehicles that are going to, or leaving from, home. Don’t expect to be allowed to drive a car into Abbott Tract, Downtown, Uptown, or the Flagler Model Land neighborhoods without proper resident credentials from 8:00 p.m. each day and continuing until 3:00 a.m. the following morning, or at other times if deemed necessary by police.
“This is the first time we have ever attempted to put this many people in one place at one time,” City Manager John Regan had previously stated, referring to Francis Field. “There are a lot of moving parts to this plan, but we are learning each step of the way.” Of course, the City has had experience in crowd management for larger numbers of people than are expected for Mumford and Sons; but, they were city-wide events, such as the 4th of July fireworks and the Nights of Lights.
Comments from some who attended last night have appeared in the social media, and in an interview published by the newspaper.
Lynda Fisher, co-owner of Jayells Coffee Company, said she came to make sure she would have access to businesses that purchase her coffee wholesale. Not knowing what demand is going to be for the concert weekend, she was concerned about the possibility of making last-minute deliveries. After talking to city staff, Fisher said she’s less anxious. “I feel confident they can accommodate that.”
Downtown retail store owners, except restaurant and bar owners, are not as confident as Fisher about what the days of the concert hold for their businesses.
Shop owners Richard Pinto (Sunburst Crystal) and Robert Lichter (H. W. Davis Co) indicated, in published reports, they are not as concerned about the concertgoers as they are their regular customers who come to shop with them on the weekends. Lichter told one reporter that the City hasn’t done enough to accommodate “weekend visitors” — instead they’ve paid too much attention to the Gentlemen of the Road concertgoers; who, according to Lichter, are not here to shop in the retail stores. Trying to remain optimistic, Pinto said, “My feeling is exactly the same.” He also commented that the City may have scared off customers who aren’t interested in the concerts.
Photo credits: © 2013 Historic City News contributed photograph by Ann Breidenstein