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It is with great sadness that we reflect on the passing of former Mayor George Gardner, who served as Mayor from 2002-2006 while serving as City Commissioner until 2008. Our hearts go out to Sally, the entire Gardner family and all who knew and loved George. George loved his family and community, and we are all better off from his lasting contributions to make St. Augustine a better place.
Prior to public office, George and Sally owned a unique toy shop on Charlotte St. and lived above the shop. This gave George a profoundly empathetic understanding between the needs of the tourism business community and the needs of residents. It also provided an appreciation for both the joys, as well as the challenges, of living downtown. I believe this experience tempered George to make sure that his public service efforts addressed all sectors of the community in a fair way that focused on public involvement in the City’s decisions.
George provided leadership to address the parking and traffic issues of the times, today referred to as Mobility, in concrete terms. He led the bond initiative to finance, plan and construct the parking garage, wayfinding signage shuttling and residential parking programs. The strategy from that time is still the underpinning of our strategy today. True to his core value of public involvement, by the current City Manager’s recollection, there were 32 public outreach meetings to affect the design and function of the parking garage.
He also was a fierce believer that visitors should share in the financial impact of their visit. He led the initiative to charge for parking which has become the second largest revenue of the City. We continue to fulfill that goal, maintaining parking rates that contribute to the fiscal stability of the City, while offering a discount to residents so that parking is an affordable option for locals.
His other core value to protect our neighborhoods and residential quality of life was manifested by tireless efforts to establish neighborhood associations, giving residents the ability to organize a collective voice in their local government. He was ahead of his time in zoning theory. A lasting contribution that effects all of us today was his advocacy for the “lot aggregation ordinance” that prevents properties comprised of multiple parcels to be separated and thereby changing the size and densification of structures that can change a neighborhood’s character. We can thank him and his other public service colleagues for creating a way to stabilize the historic character of our neighborhoods.
George was a newspaper man and journalist. He knew the importance of a free and responsible press in maintaining a democracy and ensuring that we knew the activities of our local government and participating in the decision process. As Mayor, he began a citizen’s newsletter that he continued after leaving public office. Today you know that newsletter as “The St. Augustine Report”.
This contribution has never been as important as it is today due to the demise of local press across our nation. For newer residents, George is known for his newsletter; but, for residents who have been here over the years, his newsletter reminds us of his fingerprint on the City. He connected us. Perhaps this is what we can most celebrate about George.
We mourn George’s passing, but we must also begin the celebration and remembrance of his impact. Perhaps this is how we can most help Sally and George’s family in grieving their loss.
Again, on behalf of all of us that follow in his footsteps at the City, our thoughts are with Sally and the Gardner family at this time.
~ Mayor Tracy Upchurch, City of St. Augustine
Flags at St. Augustine City Hall will be lowered to half-staff on a date to be determined in honor of George Gardner, former Mayor of St. Augustine who died on April 6.