St. Augustine’s 450th shaping up

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Published  in the St Augustine Record Wednesday, October 28, 2009

With a little more than three years to go before St. Augustine’s 450th birthday celebration, 2013-2015, we are beginning to see an increasing amount of activity connected to it. Several milestones have been completed or will be in the near future.

Sunday’s front page of The St. Augustine Record told the story, "City plans big party."

It’s more than cake and a birthday party on Sept. 8, 2015.

Consider what’s happening now but don’t get dizzy as you read the list. It will all come together in time.

The Bridge of Lions restoration is almost completed. Look for an opening early in 2010.

A 16th century ship similar to what the city’s founder, Pedro Menendez de Aviles would have sailed in 1565, is in the design stage. Its working name is "St. Augustin."

Romanza, a Spoleto-like art, music and cultural festival, is moving toward its first offering possibly in May 2011.

Serious discussions have begun on inviting the King and Queen of Spain, Queen Elizabeth II of England and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to events during the two-year celebration.

The city’s 450th Commemoration Commission steering committee meets today to hear and discuss the city’s strategic plan, 2:30 to 5 p.m. at Flagler College’s Ringhaver Center. The meeting is open to the public.

The St. Augustine City Commission met Tuesday to hear about the strategic plan in a workshop. It is the commission’s responsiblity to take the lead in the celebration.

Nominations are being vetted by federal agencies for the federal 450th Commemoration Commission. This group is expected to focus on fundraising and igniting the world’s involvement in the celebration of the oldest permanently occupied European settlement in America. The ultimate decision on who sits on this commission will be in the hands of President Barack Obama. The commission is expected to be firmed up early in 2010 with a $500,000 federal allocation to follow in 2011.

The citizen-driven 450th Community Corps is developing its programs and working with city officials on how its projects will fit into the official celebration.

At 7 p.m. on Monday, the local Commemoration Commission will host a free general assembly at Flagler College where the strategic plan will be discussed in a public forum.

On Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. the First America series begins at Flagler College in partnership with the local Commemoration Commission. This free and public event begins the education of our community on our heritage. But it’s not school all over again. The series of seven First America presentations, complete with characters of the past portrayed by actors, are designed to fire up the community.

If we don’t know our own story, how can we be the ambassadors of the 450th to the visitors we expect from around the world?

We who live here will be hosts to those visitors.

For the next six years, St. Augustine’s place in history and on the world’s stage depends on the community and its response to the celebration of our history and our heritage.

It’s quite a list of plans and accomplishments so far. Imagine the possiblities that will emerge as the community gets more involved.

One thing is for sure. The 450th celebration is no longer just talk. It’s moving forward and its success depends on all of us.

Discover First America: Legacies of La Florida

The local 450th Commemoration Commission, in partnership with Flagler College, will host the free series supported by grants from the Florida Humanities Council, Florida Public Archaeology, Florida Trust and Historic Research Media Institute.

All programs will begin at 7 p.m. at Flagler College Auditorium.

* Thursday, Nov. 5 — "Peoples Before Ponce de Leon," presented by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Willie Johns of the Brighton Reservation, Okeechobee, and Herbie Jim and traditional arts demonstrators, Tampa.

* Monday, Nov. 23 — "First America: Colonial St. Augustine," Actor Chaz Mena will conduct a Chautauqua performance as Pedro Menendez; Dr. Kathleen Deagan, Distinguished Research Curator at the University of Florida and Carl Halbirt, city archaeologist, St. Augustine.

* Wednesday, Dec. 9 — "Pirates! Fact and Fiction," Dr. Pat Croce, Pirate Soul museum curator, author and entrepreneur and Brendan Burke, Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program.

* Thursday, Jan. 7 — "The British are Coming!" presenting Bill Barker as Thomas Jefferson (through the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation), John Stevely as Jesse Fish and the British Night Watch.

* Friday, Feb. 5 — "The Great Southern Cracker Roadshow," Janis Owens, author and storyteller, Dana Ste Claire, author and Cracker historian and bluegrass musicians.

* Tuesday, April 13 — "Palaces in Paradise: Flagler’s Age of Opulence," Dr. Tom Graham, Professor Emeritus of History, Flagler College; John Blades, executive director of Flagler Museum and a special "Conversation with Henry Flagler," with Flagler played by Tom Rahner and Mayor Joe Boles as himself.

* Tuesday, May 18 — "Road to Freedom: African-Americans in Florida," by Derek Hankerson and James Bullock, both actors and creative directors.

First America passports will be handed out at the first event.

At the series’s end, residents with passports that had been stamped at each program will be considered "certified" ambassadors and hosts.

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