Celebrating Florida's 500th birthday could boost First Coast economies | News

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Celebrating Florida's 500th birthday could boost First Coast economies
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- The momentum is building as Florida approaches 2013, the 500th anniversary of when Juan Ponce de Leon landed on Florida's east coast.

On Monday, local, state, and national leaders met at the Viva Florida 500 Statewide Summit at Flagler College in St. Augustine.

They discussed all kinds of events and sites to see this year and next to commemorate 500 years of diverse heritage and culture.

They're all ways to lure more visitors and their money to the state and to create a different experience for the visitor and even the local resident.

"This gives people a reason to find out more, to get a little deeper into our culture," said Glenn Hastings with the Tourist Development Council in St. Johns County.

It's believed the celebratory events will boost the economy.

"We know for every 80 visitors, that's one new job," Hastings noted.

Florida's Secretary of State Ken Detzner attended the summit in St. Augustine. He said the focus is now on creating heritage and cultural tourism. 

"It's about business because with 85 million tourists coming every year from all over the world, we're partnering with other countries:  England, France, and Spain," he said.

Each of those countries had representatives at the meeting Monday.

"We come with the support of the Spanish government," Santiago Baeza explained.

He's the mayor of Santervas de Campos, the Spanish city in which Juan Ponce de Leon was born. Baeza brought gifts to the city of St. Augustine, such as a baptismal font.

He also sees the anniversary as a way to introduce his town's wine to the U.S.

"One of our intentions is to open an avenue to exchange products and cultural projects as well," Baeza explained through an interpreter.

No doubt, the possibility of a business boost is part of the push to celebrate Florida's last 500 years, but the pride of Florida's culture cannot be denied.

Detzner said the legislature allocated no money for 500th anniversary celebrations. He said it's all grassroots efforts in cities across the state.

For more information about Viva Florida 500, click here.

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