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GOVERNMENT EYEING 300-ROOM ST. CROIX HOTEL

May 18, 2001 — High-ranking government officials told a Senate committee Thursday that the wheels are in motion to carry out a little-known section of the mammoth 2001 Omnibus Act that calls for the Turnbull administration to help construct a 300-room hotel/casino/convention center on St. Croix.
Amadeo Francis told the Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee that the Public Finance Authority will soon sign a memorandum of understanding with a local developer to conduct a study to determine whether such a facility built on Port Authority land would fly.
Francis, who is administration and finance director of the PFA, did not identify the developer.
The Omnibus Act, signed into law by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in February, authorized the governor –- with legislative approval -– to move ahead with the project as soon as possible.
If the feasibility study findings are positive, Francis said, the PFA will negotiate with a "developer with a track record" in the territory.
Under terms being negotiated, he said, the developer would "design, finance and construct" the facility on land adjacent to the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.
If the study findings are negative, the PFA will not be obligated to go forward with the project, he said.
The memorandum of understanding calls for the developer to obtain a full performance bond if the project is deemed feasible, Francis said. He added that the agreement doesn’t preclude the government from negotiating with other developers in the future.
The largest hotels on St. Croix now, the Divi Carina Bay and the Buccaneer, have 146 and 138 rooms and suites, respectively.
The project is being considered because of St. Croix’s need for more hotel rooms, Francis said. Current hotels and condominium and villa rentals can offer no more than 1,500 rooms, he said, about one-third of what is available on St. Thomas.
(According to the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association, these two islands have a total of about 3,600 rooms together.)
Increasing the number of rooms on St. Croix will go a long way in the effort to increase flights to the island, he said.
"Our main frustration, our main concern, is to get a major destination on St. Croix," Francis said. "You need a major hotel that will generate travelers that will bring the airlift the island desperately needs."
Sen. Adelbert Bryan, the committee chair, had called the meeting to discuss the impact the Omnibus Act will have on the local economy. Discussion also touched on the government effort to build a waste-to-energy gasification plant, which would likely be the most expensive capital project ever undertaken.
The Federal Aviation Administration has threatened to turn millions of dollars in Port Authority grant funds into loans if the nearby Anguilla landfill isn’t closed by the end of December 2002.
Kent Bernier, a financial adviser to Turnbull, said the proposed plant will cost between $160 million and $175 million. He said it has not been decided if there should be a single facility on St. Croix, or one each built on St. Croix and St. Thomas.
Under questioning from Sen. Norman Jn. Baptiste, Bernier said residents would likely see bills of $16 to $30 a month for waste disposal in order to help pay for the project.
Bernier said talks have been scheduled with U.S. Interior Department, Environmental Protection Agency and FAA officials to discuss supplemental funding for the project. The Water and Power Authority and Hovensa will also be approached, he said.
"We’re at the point we’ll make a decision and then put the whole carte blanche decision on the table," he said.

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