St. Johns County Partners with SJC Cultural Events Inc.

St. Johns County Partners with SJC Cultural Events Inc.

Public/private partnerships are all the rage in economic development circles and now St. Johns County extended the idea to cultural issues.

St. Johns County commissioners recently approved an agreement with SJC Cultural Events Inc. to assume the operation and management of the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.

Under the partnership agreement, SJC Cultural Events will take over operational duties at the venues while St. Johns County will retain ownership or leasehold interests in the properties. SJC Cultural Events is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization.

According to a timeline presented by Jaime Locklear, St. Johns County assistant director of purchasing and contracts, the county received an unsolicited proposal from the organization in January and requested additional proposals form other entities. SJC Cultural Events entered into negotiations with the county in June to take over operational activities at the cultural arts venues.

The agreement calls for the county to provide $800,000 annually to cover operational expenses, public relations and artist initiatives and $1.7 million a year to fund the annual Cultural Series. Those funds will come from the county’s tourist development tax collections. An additional $750,000 in funding for maintenance will be placed in an escrow account by the county. The funding amounts are subject to annual review and subject to the county’s annual budget process.

“This new partnership provides the opportunity for greater mobility in signing performers, improving guest experiences like launching new restaurant options, elevated staff recruitment and retainment, as well as a higher degree of efficiency in daily operation of both facilities, all of which will positively impact tourism and the community,” said Interim County Administrator Joy Andrews, in a media release.

At the County Commission meeting, SJC Cultural Events board chairman Dylan Rumrell told commissioners to “envision St. Johns County not as a mere guardian of cultural issues but as their amplifier” and as “a county that doesn’t just house history but breathes life into every day.

“St. Johns County Cultural Events Inc. stands at the heart of that vision.”

Rumrell said the nonprofit group that will manage the culture and arts venues “is more than an organization, it is the embodiment of our community’s ambition, a beacon signaling our dedication to ensuring that St. Johns County remains at the cultural forefront.”

Asked if the county will receive revenue from events at venues, Locklear said the contract with SJC Cultural Events provides for negotiation in fiscal year 2025 on revenue sharing.

“Once we kind of know how this is going to turn out, we can start discussing revenue sharing,” she said.

Gabe Pellicer, most recently general manager of the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, is the new CEO/president of SJC Cultural Events.

“Stepping into this new role, I’m grateful for the bonds formed amongst our team, county staff, and the board of directors,” Pellicer said in the release. “Today marks an emotionally profound and exhilarating moment for our team. Home is where the heart is; together, we’re committed to elevating our venues, continually reaching for the best version of ourselves.”

Commissioners approved the county’s first public/private partnership unanimously. The agreement went into effect Oct. 1.

“This is going to enhance what is already one of the best venues in the country,” said Commission Chair Christian Whitehurst.