St. Johns County’s two best-known concert venues will now be operated by a nonprofit, after commissioners approved a public-private partnership on Tuesday.
That means while St. Johns County will still own the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, also known as The Amp, and the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, SJC Cultural Events, Inc. will handle event management and promotion, supervising facility expenses and coordinating cultural series at the venues. SJCCE will also manage deferred maintenance projects and execute all capital improvement projects in coordination with the county, a news release said.
The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the public-private partnership with SJC Cultural Events, with the contract effective Oct. 1. The county retains ownership or leasehold interests, including associated buildings, real estate and further improvements. SJCCE will now coordinate cultural events like the Fort Mose Jazz and Blues Series and Sing Out Loud Festival, and create free events for county residents.
The county will continue to provide annual funding for the venues that includes $750,000 for facility maintenance and $1.7 million for cultural series events. The county says cultural events are responsible for at least $39 million in annual local economic impact.
The nonprofit’s board Chairman Dylan Rumrell called it a “landmark day for St. Johns County” in a county news release.
“To our loyal fans of the St. Augustine Amphitheatre and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall: brace yourselves, for the best of what this team can offer is just around the corner. In the words of the legendary Frank Sinatra, ‘The best is yet to come!'” he said.
The amphitheatre has been highly ranked by Pollstar Magazine for ticket sales during the first six months of each year, with 262,663 guests across 75 events in fiscal year 2023 to date. The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall has drawn in 34,075 attendees over 80 ticketed events in the same time period, the venue slated for a renovation next spring that includes balcony seating.
The genesis of the public-private partnership started in April 2022 when the County Commission formed the Amphitheatre and Concert Hall Advisory Committee to evaluate existing programs at the venues and possible improvements.
After receiving an unsolicited proposal from SJCCE in April, the county invited more participants, then decided in June to allow county staff to begin negotiations with to finalize the terms and conditions of the partnership. An independent review was also conducted by outside attorneys, which included an analysis of the operational, financial, and organizational elements of the proposal.
The review concluded that the public-private partnership could deliver improved cost efficiency. The partnership also calls for profits from ticket sales to be invested into planning free shows for residents, Interim County Administrator Joy Andrews said in the news release.
“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 operations of both facilities – all of which will positively impact tourism and our community,” Andrews said.
This is St. Johns County’s inaugural public-private partnership, with a contract set to run through 2050, with potential renewals in five-year increments upon mutual agreement. Annual audits will be presented to commissioners.