ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- If you walk along popular St. George Street in St. Augustine, you'll see a major construction project. It used to be Colonial Spanish Quarter. Now it will be the Colonial Quarter museum.
First Coast News got a behind-the-scenes tour from the man behind the magic.
"Take a look over here! You'll love this," Pat Croce often said while guiding us around Wednesday.
Croce dreams big and he's full of enthusiasm.
"Just imagine," as he pointed to a lot full of cars and trucks, "There will be a 16th century fishing village over here."
"Over here will be shipbuilding," he pointed to another corner.
He patted a coquina wall, "This will stay. Anything from the ancient world, we're keeping."
Croce is taking the two acres that was the former interpretive museum across from the fort and he' transforming it.
It will encompass four time periods in St. Augustine's history: 16th century, 17th century, 18th century Spanish, and 18th century British.
"Because for 21 years, St. Augustine was under British rule," Croce added.
Croce of Pennsylvania - a businessman and pirate enthusiast - created the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure museum a couple years ago. It sits next to what was the Spanish Colonial Quarter grounds.
He said, "For this to go asunder, to go away, I was so bummed that I got in the running with other companies. I knew what my team and colleagues could do."
He's using some of what was already on site such as "their leather shop, the soldier's home. We're just taking it to a different level."
It's a different level than what the City of St. Augustine was able to do with the museum when it ran attraction.
"I'm an entrepreneur. I'm putting my money where my mouth is. I'm signing all the checks. This is all me," Croce said. "A million bucks is going in."
City officials the museum did not generate enough money for the city and state to keep it running. So it was closed for the most part for nearly a year.
"And how sad for the city," Croce added. "They loved this place. It's a great historic attraction, but they didn't have the wherewithal to keep it funded."
I asked Croce "Why will you be able to do it?"
Croce responded, "I'm going to make it such a spectacle that you'll have to come. And, it's going to be authentic because everything in here has to be approved by the University of Florida."
"There will be re-enactors for the tours, artisans doing the work such as blacksmiths and gunsmiths," and then he smiled, "then we'll have dioramas and animatronics. Pretty cool!"
This week, a hard-to-miss exhibit was erected. It's a watchtower that rises above the tree tops.
"That's a 17th c. watchtower," Croce beamed. "We're going to make it as authentic as we can, similar to the watchtowers that were here when Sir Francis Drake raided St. Augustine. You'll be able to climb to the top, and who wouldn't want to climb a watch tower!"
There will also be a stage with a colonial show. Croce is bringing in former Disney and Universal employees to create the production.
A larger tavern and a pub will also be on site, serving drinks ranging from sangria to pale ales. Food will also be served.
At a stopping point, I mentioned to Croce that "The people of St. Augustine, even though there were economic issues, feel like this is still their museum." Croce quickly said, "It is their museum! We're really only torch bearers."
He referenced his experience with the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team. "When I ran the Philadelphia 76ers, it wasn't my team. I ran it for the city of Philadelphia. That's what this is to me. The Colonial Quarter is really their (the people's) signature attraction and I want them all to be proud of it, to bring in their families and friends and say, 'Hey, you have to check out the Colonial Quarter!'"
The Colonial Quarter is expected to open in the Spring of 2013.
You can follow Colonial Quarter's progress on twitter @ColonialQuarter.
First Coast News