Sunday, September 10, 2000
Saving Hispanic Gardens
ain't like brain surgery
THBE ST. AUGUSTIN------
A Morris Communications Corp. newspaper
RONNIE J. HUGHES
JAMES D. SUTTON
Phone: 829-6562 Fax: 9-64
E-mail email@example.com i
How can a gift be sold?
In 1965 we celebrated the 400th anniversary
of the founding.of St. Augustine, by-raising
$50,000 for the Hispanic Garden. Out goal was
to raise between $40,000 to-$45,000. We gave
the proceeds to the State of Florida, to be main-
tained by the historic St. Augustine Preservation
What is happening?
It was to honor our Spanish Heritage. It was
build adjacent to "La Casa del Hidalgo" (owned
by Spain). The Spanish government gave the
statue of Queen Isabella. We spent a lot of our
time, effort and money to come to it.
The Foundation now wants to destroy a history.
ic landmark on St. George Street and replace it
with a commercial building. The Garden was de-
veloped as a symbol of its Spanish origins. To
the opening came Spanish officials as well as
Florida's official, including the Honorable Hay-
den Burs, governor of Florida.
We had luncheons, held fashion shows, etc.
As we said, it was a lot of effort. Unfortunately
several members of our committee are gone,
among them our great leader and chairman Mrs.
Towers, who loved St. Augustine.
This is an affront and unfair to us who
We had assumed that this monument would be
permanent and we represented to our donors that
this would be the case.
The effort by the St. Augustine Foundation to
destroy this graceful landmark breaches faith
with the donors, and affronts the ties between
our countries and the Hispanics of this great
country, the city's past and its monuments. The
Hispanic Garden should be treated no differently.
Have the arguments in favor of preserving the
Bridge of Lions gone unnoticed?
To destroy this small and beautiful symbol of
friendship between two countries and replace it
with a commercial structure will offend those
who volunteered their time, effort and money,
and will have a chilling effect on those who may
be solicited to support community projects in the
Teresa de Balmaseda Milam
Growing up in rural Florida
where more kids took FFA than
math, boys settled differences in a
most basic way. A bunch of onlook-
make a circle
in an orange
grove just off
school proper- .
*: ty. The two
would be cen-
ter ring. More
often than not, JAMES
they'd snort SUTTON
do a lot of
but never swing a fist. They knew
that if they postured long enough, a
teacher would notice the fray and
put a stop to it.
Watching these shows we'd
chuckle and say "one's scared and
the other's glad of it."
Many times since, I've noticed
this same silly game in reverse.
Circumstances in which the easiest
thing would be to seek agreement or
open an honest dialogue were
stymied by snorting, sidestepping
and not extending an arm to simply
shake hands and see what can be
done to find a solution that's plainly
The once-lovely, now-lonely
Hispanic, Gardens brings all this to
The controversy is a complicated
one. That may be the reason parties
on both sides seem to be seeking an
equally complicated answer.
And, it seems to me, that these
Same parties have found it much
easier to point fingers of blame than
to look for solutions.
The St. Augustine Foundation
has been painted black with a broad
and errant brush.
This owner/trustee of the
Hispanic Gardens has done nothing
..wrong,,but Ithink it'stfair to say that
its board spent little time or thought
on doing it right. .
The closing of the garden was
abrupt. The decision may have been
a long and tortuitas one for the
foundation board, but it still caught
the citizenry off guard. It was also
done with what could be termed a
lack of aesthetic sensibility. The
only thing missing from the mood
of the bright orange wrapping and
"No Trespassing" signs on this his-
toric street was a string of concerti-
na wire circling the walls and
maybe a real mad Doberman
But it was legal. The Foundation
was experiencing increasing prob-
lems with vendors, musicians and
artists using the garden. There were
legitimate concerns about liability
issues on the property including
that of tourists who might be injured
in the increasing congestion.
So the prettiest piece of property
on one of the more unique thor-
oughfares in the nation got shut
Then we heard that one option
the Foundation was exploring was
tearing down the park and throwing
up a commercial building. Again,
legal. But, lord, what an uproar
.. .. ..-- ~ -. -,.... ... -,. *:.,.-. .;-. .(
For those of you who don't know
its history, the Hispanic Gardens
was built to commemorate the 400th
anniversary of the founding of St.
Augustine. The property was
bought and the gardens were built
by volunteers mainly a dedicated
group of ladies. They held fashion
shows and bake sales and raised the
$60,000 needed to make the dream
come true. The garden was and is a
symbol of our Spanish heritage.
When Spain placed the statue of
Queen Isabella at its center, it
became a monument to the cultural
symbiosis of that country and our
So, it's not surprising that the
level of concern for this piece of
property runs high.,
What do we do to save the land-
mark? Buy it.
That does sound simple. If you
ask the city, officials say the
Foundation probably 'won't sell.
The Foundation's folks think the
city probably won't buy.
But thinking isn't asking, and
that's the rub.
Foundation President Bill
Proctor tells me he's open to just
such a deal. It would be a win-win
situation for the Foundation, elimi-
nating what's become a real prob-
lem, and infusing the Foundation
with new cash to carry on its fund-
ing for archaeological studies here.
"If we could buy out of this mess...
it would suit me fine," Proctor said.
The City's line is "we can't pay
a. half-million dollars for a park."
That shows how shallow any real
attempt to look at a purchase has
Local broker Arnold DeLorenzb
took a look at the property for The-
Record and came in with an appraisal
of around $200,000. He likes the park
and did the work gratis.
So, we have a seller and a ballpark
price. Do 'we have.a buyer? Depends
on who you talk with. City Commis-
sioners I spoke to Friday seem ready
,to look seriously at the deal. I can't
imagine how the City could not favor
saving and owning the park. It would
be a wonderful addition to the his-
toric properties it has taken over from
the state. Take out a 30-year mort-
gage, or a bond, at the great rates
available to a municipality and what's
it cost us a year to keep the only open
space on St. George Street alive?
Frankly, any City Father (or Mother)
who can say with a straight face this
isn't the best investment we could
make, ... well, lynching comes to
The only small hurdle in the plan
would be getting Secretary of State
Katherine Harris to recommend
amending the mediation agreement,
which disallows the' sale of
Foundation properties. Ms. Harris' is
an ardent champion ,of historic
preservation. It's a pretty good bet
she'd do whatever necessary to see
that the Hispanic Gardens remains
what it is a restful, charming addi-
tion to our historic district and a moh-
ument to those who worked so hard
make it happen.
No more snorting.
Do the deal.
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