Dozens of people from more than 20 countries are expected stop in St. Augustine next week to tour the Castillo de San Marcos and the St. Augustine Distillery.
The visit is part of the Americas Competitiveness Exchange on Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, organized in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The program was created years ago as a way to bring together “decision makers” in the Western Hemisphere and elsewhere to learn and form new partnerships, according to the city. Tours have taken place in other parts of the country and the world.
Participants will tour part of Florida from Dec. 3-9, with the St. Augustine stop scheduled for Dec. 6.
“It’s really about kind of making connections [and] economic development,” St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver said.
The delegation will tour other areas such as Orlando and Cape Canaveral to get a look at work in advanced manufacturing, sciences, information technology and aerospace. They’re coming to St. Augustine because of historic preservation and historic tourism and because of the distillery’s innovation, according to the city and the commerce department.
People expected on the tour include business executives, educators and government officials from Argentina, Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Israel and Peru — the list also includes Germany’s deputy director of General Innovation and Technology Policy, and the business dean at a technical university in El Salvador.
City Manager John Regan will be part of the tour, and the city plans to spend about $3,000 for the group by providing lunch and a small gift for each person, according to Wanda Bray, city event administrator.
The first stop will be the Castillo de San Marco.
The fort, which is the oldest masonry fort in North America, attracted about 830,000 visitors in its most recent fiscal year, said Greg Utech, supervisory park ranger.
Under Spanish direction, work to build the fort began in 17th century.
The National Park Service, which is in control of the fort, regularly brings in masons to patch up its coquina, said Kim Mayo, chief ranger,
“The Castillo is just so unique … it always has a special connection for [people from] European countries,” Mayo said.
When the tour gets to the distillery, co-founder Philip McDaniel said he plans to talk about the building’s transformation from an unused building and former ice plant to two separate businesses: The St. Augustine Distillery and the Ice Plant bar and restaurant — which uses spirits from the distillery.
The restoration kept some original features of the building, such as a crane above the bar that was used “to pick up huge blocks of ice to then be broken down and sold to local customers and the shrimp boats.”
McDaniel said the distillery — where gin, rum, vodka and bourbon are produced — has become one of the city’s major destinations, and other businesses such as a brewery recently opened in the area.
“A lot of people are recognizing you can combine manufacturing and tourism as a way to create a cool business,” McDaniel said.