**From the Jacksonville Business Journal by Renee Unsworth
When Christina Parrish Stone sits in her office during workdays, she might strain to hear a guest or caller over a Johnny Cash tribute band or a children’s ukulele group.
And she loves what she hears.
Sure, the executive director of the St. Johns Cultural Council might have to close her door sometimes to maintain concentration, but she is thrilled with the fact that her office at the old Waterworks building in St. Augustine constantly stays buzzing.
It was just about a year ago that the Cultural Council started its lease with the City of St. Augustine to use the building, constructed in 1898, at 184 San Marco Ave. for various cultural and civic programming.
In that time, it has quickly turned into one of the busiest event spaces in the city — day and night.
“Clearly there was a need for the space,” Parrish Stone told the Business Journal. “When we leased it from the city, we knew there was a need because we had heard from a lot of the organizations that we work with … they were having a hard time finding spaces that they could afford to rent to have performances.”
Starting April 1, 2022, the Waterworks has been the site of more than 150 events. And demand has not slowed. According to ParrishStone, the venue currently is booked through May with later dates filling up quickly.
The reason is simple: Lots of groups, artists, and artisans are looking for space. Many are nonprofits or not the kind of performers who can’t sell hundreds of tickets. So the chance to rent a venue for maybe $100 or $200 is the only way they can afford to host an event.
“We try to keep the cost for people to use it very low, really at a price that’s just enough for us to cover our own costs of operating the facility,” Parrish Stone said.
That also allows organizers to keep prices low for ticketed events.
It has helped lead to many sold-out events, including a handful of Gamble Rogers Concert Series shows.
“The response from the community attending these events has just been phenomenal,” Parrish Stone said. “We’re thrilled with how it’s going and looking forward to continuing to grow the programming in the future.”
A portion of the Cultural Council budget comes from the St. Johns County Tourist Development Council, so part of the mission with programming at the Waterworks and other sites is to bring visitors to the county.
With a capacity of around 100 for most events, the Waterworks programs are not big tourist draws; however, Parrish Stone said most ticketed events do bring a high percentage of out-of-county visitors — due to the variety, quality of low cost of the shows.
“Everything that we do is aimed at both residents and visitors because the same events visitors want to come to see are great events for our residents to go to as well,” she said.
A few events will bring even more tourists, like the upcoming conference for the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Society. With the Cultural Council also partnering with the Main Branch Library, Parrish Stone said the Waterworks constantly hosts events with wide appeal and great frequency.
“I expected it to be busy just because of the conversations we had ahead of time,” Parrish Stone said. “I am pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the programming, the diversity of the audiences.”
In 2019, the city received a Florida Division of Historical Resources Special Category Grant ($240,000) to continue work on the building. With this grant, the city restored the plaster finishes, installed utilities, and reconstructed the music platform, among other work.
The Cultural Council lease has an initial three-year term with 10-year following terms. It requires a monthly payment of $500 with an annual adjustment based on the CPI. These fees will be placed in a restricted fund for future maintenance of the property.