St. Augustine residents voice concerns over increased tourism

By Ethan Calloway - Anchor/reporter
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ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Tourists are flocking to the Sunshine State in record numbers.

Just this week, Gov. Rick Scott announced that more tourists visited Florida in the first quarter of this year than ever before -- 3.1 million people, to be exact. That’s more than a 2 percent increase over last year.

As a tourist hotspot, St. Augustine is a big part of that, but not everyone is excited about it.

For the most part, the tourism report is great news, driving the economy across the state. But if you talk to some people living in St. Augustine, the city’s growing reputation as a tourist destination has its downsides.

Even on a Tuesday afternoon, the streets of downtown St. Augustine are packed with cars and the sidewalks full of pedestrians. But those signs of a tourism boom in America’s oldest city aren’t sitting well with everyone.

"I know it's a good thing for the economy as a whole, but as far as quality of life, it's definitely getting a little -- you know, there are some days where you just have to bite your lip and just shake your head and keep right on going," resident Gerard Shannon said.

Shannon has lived in his home on Washington Street since the 80s. He said the presence of the tourists is much more noticeable, and not always in a good way.

"People (are) ending up on scooters in spots that you would be surprised," Shannon said. "I mean, you've got to look both ways to cross the sidewalk sometimes around here, and never mind the cars -- they can end up almost anywhere."

"St. Augustine and St. Johns County are dependent upon that revenue," resident Bill Brown said.

Brown lives in the Lincolnville neighborhood. He pointed out the importance of tourism, but said it’s important that outsiders preserve the history. His home sits across the street from where Martin Luther King Jr. once stayed during the Civil Rights movement.

"It's important that we do everything just to educate ourselves in terms of a sense of appreciation, and also to pass that along to others who are just stopping by and saying 'hey,'" Brown said.

A city representative told News4Jax that addressing the parking and traffic issues is a top priority, and that they are working to improve mobility for people living in the area..

 

"I think it's just, it's taken on a life of its own and, you know, the genie is out of the bottle. It's not going back in," Shannon said, adding that the promotion of St. Augustine has gone too far.

City officials said about half of the visitors come for the day and don’t even stay the night.

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