October 23, 2020

Viva Florida! In 2013, Florida celebrates 500 years

Florida leaders are hoping the state's 500th anniversary celebration will instill a sense of state identiy and generate an economic boost.

Amy Keller | 7/23/2012
Viva Florida
The official poster, by artist Christopher Still, for next year's commemoration.

In 1513, according to popular legend, the dream of eternal youth lured Juan Ponce de Leon to Florida. In 2013, Florida leaders hope their yearlong celebration of the 500th anniversary of Ponce de Leon's discovery of "La Florida" will lure tourists and attract business investment to the state.

"It has huge economic impact potential," says Will Seccombe, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, which is planning to weave the Viva Florida 500 celebration into its marketing activities to expand Florida's image as a cultural heritage destination. "Our ability to expand people's perceptions of the Florida destination — not replace or change — but to expand them beyond beaches and attractions is an extraordinarily powerful opportunity."

Historical commemorations, however, have a mixed financial track record. A study of Jamestown's 400th anniversary in 2007 found that the celebration generated $1.2 billion in sales, created 20,621 jobs and provided $22 million in tax revenue for Virginia. According to the Wall Street Journal, the National Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commemoration, which included 15 events from Virginia to Oregon between 2003 and 2006, was an economic flop. Tepid interest resulted in poor attendance at many events and left one small city in Montana $535,000 in debt.

Teachable Moment

Janine Farver

In an effort to incorporate Florida's quincentennial celebration into the state's educational curriculum, the Florida Humanities Council has been sponsoring summer workshops for teachers to learn more about the state's Spanish colonial history. "We think it really gives us the opportunity to recast Florida history beyond just the past 50 or 60 or 70 years, back to 1513, when Europeans first set foot on our soil," says Janine Farver, executive director of the Florida Humanities Council. Additionally, the council is launching a website — TeachingFlorida.org — that will provide materials about Florida's Spanish colonial past, as well as about early people and tribes who lived here before the Spanish arrived.

While Florida's Department of State is leading the statewide celebration, the success of the initiative will depend largely on the willingness of individual cities, counties, businesses and non-profits to create and fund compelling events that capture the public's interest.

Emilio Sanchez

Janine Farver, executive director of the Florida Humanities Council, which is working on the educational component of the commemoration, says economic constraints dictated a "decentralized" effort. The state, she says, is simply "not in the position to put the kind of money and resources into the commemoration that it might have 10 to 15 years ago." As a result, the Florida Humanities Council has been appealing online for donations to help fund a variety of programs — including teacher workshops, public radio and television history moments and a "Great Floridians" traveling chautauqua tour — that it has been planning.

Emilio Sanchez, president and CEO of the Spain-Florida Foundation, which is playing a key role in planning a number of events around the state, says fundraising is "tough," but he is hopeful that his non-profit can raise enough money to fund a variety of events, which will include a visit by the king and queen of Spain and a parade of ships from Puerto Rico to Florida's coastline. "I think this commemoration really is going to be an opportunity to highlight the importance of the Hispanic presence and influence in Florida and reinforce the cultural and trade relationship between Spain and Florida," says Sanchez.

Queen Sofia
The Spain-Florida Foundation hosted a visit by Queen Sofia of Spain in Miami last year.
The queen, along with King Juan Carlos, is planning to return to Florida for the 500 celebration.
David Taylor

In May, David Taylor, the subject of the Tallahassee Trend March column "Tech Tangle," resigned as executive director of the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology after the Legislature declined to fund the 4-year-old agency. Taylor has moved over to the Department of Children and Families, where he is chief information officer.

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