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Saturday, February 27, 2021

St. Augustine park signs mandated by UF officials under review


A group of artists is battling the city of St. Augustine to take down signs with UF’s name on them.

On Oct. 19, Loring Park, a public park east of Flagler College, had signs reading “No Trespassing” put up in an area used by street artists and musicians in the past. The artists are arguing that the space is public and that their First Amendment right to free speech is being violated.

Ed Poppell, a UF manager of the property, said UF leases more than 30 properties from the state of Florida, including Loring Park. The signs were part of establishing the UF-leased land as a non-free speech zone, he said.

“We just wanted to make sure the same rules that apply to the main campus in Gainesville apply in St. Augustine,” he said. Certain sections of campus are designated free speech zones, including Plaza of the Americas.

The signs have been a deterrent to visitors in St. Augustine, but Poppell said this was not the goal. The university wants people to continue visiting the park but not use it as an area to sell artwork or assemble crowds.

Attorney Thomas E. Cushman, who is representing the artists, said the group feels the signs are targeting them.

Cushman said he has worked for artists with similar cases for more than 20 years. Often, he said, the city of St. Augustine has tried to push its artists out of public areas.

“Painting and drawing and creating art is public expression,” he said. “For some unknown reason, the city thinks it scares the tourists.”

Recently, when the signs were placed on the perimeter of the park, the city said it didn’t have any prior knowledge as to why the signs were put up, Cushman said.

But Cushman said he submitted a public records request, which revealed that the city attorney’s office had emailed UF officials requesting the implementation of signs to keep artists out.

John Regan, the St. Augustine city manager, said UF has been managing Loring Park since 2010.

He said the park should stay accessible to the public despite UF’s management.

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“We understand the university wanted to control the property,” he said, “but it belongs to the state of Florida.”

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