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Friday, February 23, 2024


Aug. 13, 2001 – It may be the usual long, hot summer in Washington, D.C., but things are getting done there that will benefit the Virgin Islands, according to Sens. Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino A. White Sr., who have just returned to the territory after a week in the nation's capital.
Pickard-Samuel said she met with federal Veterans Affairs officials to discuss possible federal funding to turn the decrepit, government-owned Virgin Isle Hotel on St. Thomas into a multipurpose veterans center. "The support we received even surprised me," she said.
She said she would provide details in coming days of her trip, including her efforts on behalf of veterans' health issues, as well as her V.I. Hotel plan.
What was left of the V.I. Hotel was deeded to the government on Dec. 31, 1998, by the Maribe Hotel Corp., the consortium that owned the derelict Upper John Dunkoe property, after the University of the Virgin Islands turned down a similar offer. The owners stipulated that the onetime showplace of the territory's new high-profile tourism industry be used for a public purpose. The owners had been trying since Hurricane Hugo to unload the ruined resort and deal with tax and insurance issues; they reportedly had most recently had it on the market for $4 million, with no takers.
To date, the government has shown little interest in rehabilitating the property, which for more than a decade has been a haven for squatters and a graveyard for abandoned vehicles. Gov. Roy Schneider at one point touted it as future affordable housing and there has been periodic interest in converting it into a training facility for vocational education, the hospitality industry and other purposes. But no effort has been made to rehabilitate the property since 1989.
On the afternoon of Jan. 21, 2000, the top floor of the hotel was engulfed in flames. The area that burned had once been known as the hotel "Blue Room," which served for many years as the St. Thomas studios of the old WIVI-FM radio station.
Pickard-Samuel, who chairs the Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee, said she will hold a hearing on Sept. 12 at which federal and local Veterans Affairs Office officials will testify.
She took issue with published reports questioning her activities in Washington. "They said I didn't check with the delegate's office," she said, a reference to Delegate Donna Christian Christensen. "I always check with her office, but she was away."
White, who chairs the Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee, declined to describe the nature of his trip other than to say THAT it was productive and that he will release a report later. "I can tell you, though," he said, "the results were good."
White also took issue with published reports critical of their travels. "They said Congress was in recess for the summer," he said. "I don't work for any congressman. I get more done than they do."

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