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TUNICK BUILDING MOVING CLOSE TO COMPLETION

The awkward plywood scaffolding that hugged the hillside facing the east side of the Charlotte Amalie harbor is giving way to an imposing, but graceful Danish West Indian salute to the community — the new Theodore Tunick & Co. insurance headquarters, which is expected to open in July.
"Nothing can ever come in on time or on budget, but we're getting there, and I'm very proud," company president James Tunick said.
He has had his share of hurdles, seen and unseen. For one, the building site itself, on a steep hillside, is composed of blue bitch rock.
"I've had people who know something about geology tell me they have never encountered rock this hard," he said. "It took us an additional four months, and many more dollars, to drill holes and put chemicals in to dissolve the rock to be able to excavate. It was extraordinarily hard. It was unbelievable!"
Actual work — paper work — for the building started in 1997 with a 10-month rezoning process before the Legislature. The building was designed by local architect Mike DeHass. "With such a prominent site on our harbor, I wanted something that would be aesthetically pleasing, something traditional that would enhance the hillside," Tunick said.
The building, with its bright traditional red roof, is painted in a light beige with pastel blue and beige stripes. Yet to be added before the scaffolding comes down are little red eyebrow roofs over the windows.
The five-story structure's lower two levels are parking lots exclusively for tenants and their customers. Tunick isn't saying at this time who the tenants will be, although he said half of the first floor is leased to a "longstanding St. Thomas business."
Tunick had thought a bank might like the location with drive-through convenience, but none has committed to space so far. Tunick's own insurance company will occupy the top floor. "We will be one of the few downtown buildings with adequate parking," he said.
Tunick has nothing but high praise for his construction crew, about 75 to 100 workers — "masons, plumbers, electricians, roofers, you name it," he said. "They did a fantastic job." And he is enormously pleased with DeHaas' West Indian architectural concept.
He hired all local contractors and subcontractors, with Zenith Development in charge. "The only off-island labor we had was the elevator installers from Puerto Rico," he said. The building has a five-story glass-enclosed elevator running down (and up) the center.
As for the price tag for the project, he said, "Say it's five million, actually over five million." He added, "Since we acquired Braithwaite Insurance [property and casualty], we have needed bigger quarters, and this will give us all the room we need – to say nothing of the view."
In recent years Tunick's company has occupied the second floor of the office building on Bluebeard's Hill behind the St. Thomas-St. John Cable TV headquarters on Beltjen Road. The property was acquired two years ago by Innovative Communication Corp., which has taken over the rest of the building and has plans for the insurance company space. Tunick said it will be "the sooner, the better for everybody concerned for us to get out of there."

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