Should St. Augustine grow as a community or a resort?

St. Augustine Record – USA TODAY NETWORK

As new hotels spring to life in St. Augustine like mushrooms in a damp cellar and residential neighborhoods are transformed into commercial lodging centers with hundreds of short-term rental units, I remember this what California-born philosopher Josiah Royce meant when he warned, “Individuals without community are without substance, while communities without individuals are blind.” He also said, “My life means nothing – either in theory or in practice – unless I am a member of a community.”

Royce died in 1916, but his insight could apply today to St. Augustine, where policymakers apparently supported increasing hotel construction whenever possible. And even more hotels are planned – some already approved and others awaiting a city hall blessing – as short-term rentals continue to invade otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

In my opinion, there is a fundamental question for residents to resolve, and soon: Should St. Augustine grow as a community or as a 13 square mile resort?

Solla-Carcaba Building:Kanti Patel plans to turn 88 rue Riberia into a hotel

Related:Planned Cigar Factory Hotel Recalls St. Augustine’s Past

Local hotelier Kanti Patel is transforming the Solla-Carcaba cigar factory into a 50-room hotel called The Cigar Factory.

My Merriam-Webster Handy Dictionary defines resort as “a place designed to provide recreation, entertainment, and accommodation, particularly to vacationers; a community or establishment whose primary purpose or industry is to serve vacationers.

Sounds a lot like Saint Augustine, doesn’t it?

If that’s what the majority of residents want, so be it. But if a majority thinks the nation’s oldest city should be more than a vacation resort, they need to stand up at City Commission meetings and tell the people around the table enough is enough. Right now, St. Augustine is a diverse and vibrant community, but how much longer will it be?

Sometimes I feel like policy makers are more concerned with the financial health of the city than the sanity and peace of mind of its citizens. Collecting sales tax from people who bring their platinum credit cards to town helps pay municipal bills, and that’s great, but not at the cost of sacrificing the town’s character and livability. I believe that the current trend of repurposing existing buildings to accommodate more accommodation rooms and restaurants, for example, requires a city commission bold enough to firmly press the “pause” button.

Building of the Solla-Carcaba cigar factory in 1979.

The former Solla-Carcaba cigar factory on Riberia Street is set to be converted from an office block into an upscale boutique hotel with rooftop pool and bar included as part of the planned expansion of the existing building. The old bank building at 24 Cathedral Place – the tallest building in the city – will be converted into a 100-room hotel if the plans are accepted by the town hall. And when the long-awaited Sebastian Inland Harbor project finally becomes a reality, another batch of hotel rooms will be added to the city’s inventory – an inventory that has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.

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And let’s not forget the impact of short-term rentals on neighborhoods, especially by absentee homeowners who pay out-of-market real estate prices to buy a home – not to live in it, but to convert it into a short-term rental. term. In many cases, they don’t care about the future of the town, nor do they care about the impact of their decision to convert a private house into a mini-hotel on the surrounding residents. Their only concern is how much money they can make from tourists (and how few complaints the police have received about their tenants).

I’m not suggesting that St. Augustine should look like the world of Beaver Cleaver of the 1950s, with a soda jerk serving root beer floats while patrons feed a jukebox and listen to Buddy Holly sing about Peggy Sue, but think about it for a moment: How many grocery stores are located within the city limits? How many pharmacies? By the way, how often do you go downtown to do your shopping?

Maybe things will change after three municipal commission seats are decided by this year’s municipal elections? Maybe there will be a change of priorities? Or maybe all we can do is go with the flow until the rising sea turns downtown streets into canals and tour operators are forced to convert into gondolas?

Steve Cotrell

I really enjoy living here, and it’s been a great 12 years — 11 as a St. Augustine resident and the last year residing just outside the city limits — but I’m concerned about the future. . I don’t look like Methuselah, so I won’t be around in 2065 when Saint Augustine celebrates his 500th birthday. But I wonder: will the county seat still struggle to sustain itself as a proper community in 43 years, or will it have become a resort town in its own right?

Stay tuned.

Steve Cottrell is a former small-town mayor, president of a chamber of commerce and editor of a weekly newspaper. Contact him at [email protected]

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