ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – John P. Regan, the city manager of St. Augustine, had quite a surprise Wednesday when the ambassador of Spain to the U.S., Ramòn Gill-Casares, stopped by St. Augustine.
Gill-Casares visited to tell Regan that King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia would visit St. Augustine in September to attend the United States-Spain Council Forum and to celebrate the month of St. Augustine's 450th anniversary. Another 250 world leaders are expected at the summit.
"It's a very exciting time for St. Augustine," former mayor Mark Alexander said. "You only get a 450th birthday once."
Kathleen Bagg Morgan, director of communication at the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, said that Regan gave the ambassador a tour of the city and was told that the king and queen would be visiting the city on Sept. 17 and 18, a week after the city's big 450th anniversary.
Alexander served as St. Augustine's mayor in 2000, and he is one of many St. Augustine natives who was overjoyed to hear that the king and queen of Spain will be visiting Florida's oldest city. Alexander said that puts a lot of pressure on city leaders to make the visit one the royals won't forget.
"There's a lot of planning. There's a lot of things you have to do. There's a lot of protocol," Alexander said.
Authorities said security will be tight, with an increase in patrols and special security that travels with the royal family.
Alexander knows first-hand about the requirements, because he rubbed elbows with King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia when they visited St. Augustine in 2000. Thousands of people crowded the streets to get a glimpse of royalty.
"I noticed how friendly they were and ready to shake everybody's hands and talk to them," Alexander said.
He said one of the most memorable moments was when he gave the king and queen a tour of Castillo de San Marcos.
"We walked up to the top deck, and I noticed the king thought this was quite fascinating. He already got a tour, and he didn't wanna leave as the entourage was leaving," Alexander recalled. "He didn't want to leave. I looked at him and said, 'Your majesty, you don't have to leave on our account.'"
More than a decade later royalty will be visiting again.
"His ancestors paid for this so he finally gets to visit," Alexander said.
On Sept. 8, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed in St. Augustine and claimed the city and all of La Florida for the Spanish crown.
Felipe VI succeeded to the throne last June following the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos. Incidentally, the last Spanish reign of a king named Felipe was from 1700 to 1746, when La Florida and St. Augustine were part of the kingdom.