The museum’s interior celebrates Florida history.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection aims to apply a bit of modern sheen with a new management plan for the Constitution Convention Museum/Park in Port St. Joe.
A public meeting to unveil the plan was held last Tuesday followed the next morning by a meeting of the museum’s advisory council, a mix of local volunteers, county tourism representatives and rangers with the local state parks.
The plan is in draft form, said Daniel Alsentzer, a park planner with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and therefore is not on the 10-year work plan for the state’s parks.
Contingent on funding, the plan would hopefully reach the agency’s 10-year work plan in the coming year, Alsentzer said, at which time it would be subject to the same funding process undertaken by all state government agencies, he said.
“Ours is a little more competitive than other agencies,” Alsentzer added. “The funding is likely not available for a period of time.”
That the DEP is drafting a management plan for the 12-acre complex is encouraging for the museum’s supporters.
For several years, as funding for state parks dropped, there were whispers that the museum/park could be on the chopping block.
“My main concern is that the park and museum remain open,” said Port St. Joe Mayor Mel Magidson, who lives across the street from the park. “It is history.
“Anything to enhance the visit is a good thing because that is a positive for Gulf County and the city of Port St. Joe. Not only to enhance it, but to market it.”
Alsentzer said closing the park/museum, “Is not on the table … This is a resource of statewide significance. We think the plan would enhance visitor numbers and exhibits.”
Enhancing those numbers, in exhibits and visitors, would be critical in securing funding for the management plan, Alsentzer said.
The advisory council and public meetings were aimed at soliciting public comment about the tentative plan. The comments will be incorporated into the final document, Alsentzer said.
In broad strokes, the plan calls for renovation of the building’s exterior and interior with several goals: to better accommodate school groups and public functions; add enhancements to the exhibits; and improve windows, shutters and air conditioning.
That will include an evaluation of the museum structure and roof, assessing the integrity of the building, Alsentzer said. The exterior would also be rehabilitated for a more coastal Florida look.
“That is a priority,” said Alsentzer of improving the exterior aesthetics of the museum.
The flat roof, which had led to chronic problem with leaks, will almost certainly be replaced.
Using brickwork similar to that used on the Port City Trail, concrete walkways will be replaced with wider paths, and landscaping improvements will be made to the exterior of the museum as well as the park grounds.
Landscaping improvements will include placards identifying the varying forms of native vegetation in the park.
Any improvements outside, additionally, will be geared to complimenting the spectacular canopy of pines, live oaks and palms that drape the park and provide a green rooftop for a stroll from the Constitution Monument and U.S. Highway 98.
“It is a beautiful spot,” said Charlotte Pierce, a member of the advisory council and president of the St. Joseph Historical Society.
In addition, a new shared-use trail around the perimeter of the memorial mall will link the Port City Trail system to the park grounds, which would provide an accessible route to tour the park without having to walk down roadways.
“We want to do as much as possible to connect the park and the city as the Constitution City,” said park manager Mark Knapke.
Once the plan is improved, said Knapke, staff could begin with a mulch or crushed limestone trail while awaiting funding for the bricked version.
“A walking path, especially connected to the Port City Trail, is a good idea,” said Magidson, who also served on the advisory committee for the plan.
Picnic pavilions will be erected adjacent to the museum and the parking areas and parking areas will be lengthened and moved closer to the museum.
The Constitution Convention Museum Park commemorates the work of 56 territorial delegates who drafted Florida's first constitution in 1838.
Following four more constitution conventions, Florida was finally admitted to the Union in 1845 as the 27th state. Visitors can take a self-guided tour through displays and exhibits of the era. A replicated convention hall takes visitors into the debate of delegates Robert Raymond Reid, William P. Duvall, David Y. Levy and Thomas L Baltzell. These life-size, audio-animated mannequins bring a realistic demonstration of the debate and process of drafting a state constitution.
The original settlement in St. Joseph lasted only nine years, but was a boomtown when it was founded in 1835 and competed with Apalachicola as a Gulf Coast trading port. During its short life, the city was selected over Tallahassee to host Florida's first State Constitution Convention.