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FINCH: WICO SHOULD FUND STX CRUISE HOMEPORT

May 31, 2001 — If West Indian Co. Ltd. officials want to see cruise ship homeporting on St. Croix anytime soon, they should put up the money to do it, according to Gordon Finch of the V.I. Port Authority.
Finch, the Port Authority executive director, was responding to comments made last week by his counterpart at WICO, Edward Thomas, who said a lack of leadership within the Port Authority has caused the territory to lose a chance at being a home base for cruise lines.
Thomas said that with more Eastern Caribbean cruises taking in four to five ports, cruise lines are interested in having a home base in the region. Ports in San Juan and Florida, he said, are becoming too crowded. Because of that, he said the Port Authority should move ahead with plans to develop a homeporting facility.
But in an address to the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Finch said that if WICO wants to undertake such a project, it should do it itself.
"If WICO feels homeporting is the thing to do . . . I invite WICO to take up the gauntlet," Finch said.
He noted that current conditions on St. Croix, including the lack of major air arrivals and hotel rooms, would mean such an investment – in the neighborhood of $30 million to $50 million – would "be very precarious at this point to undertake."
Loan and operating expenses for such a project, Finch said, would cost about $4.5 million a year. Considering current traffic, homeporting would have to be subsidized by the government, he said.
Finch, who clashed with Thomas late last year over the Port Authority’s Crown Bay project on St. Thomas, said his agency would gladly give WICO access to port areas if it were interested in funding and building a homeport facility. WICO, Finch said, "inherited a golden goose" when the government purchased the cruise ship dock at Havensight on St. Thomas. He said WICO has never had to fund large capital projects that pay for themselves.
But Finch did say there is a future for homeporting on St. Croix. He noted that the soon-to-be-finished Henry E. Rohlsen Airport project will meet airline arrival needs, and ship fuel costs are low. However, the island still will need more hotel rooms and cheaper airfares.
At a Senate hearing earlier this month, Finch told senators that cruise lines want to be assured of an inventory of rooms at all times and regularly scheduled flights into a locale where they would homeport.

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