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HomeNewsArchivesWICO EXPECTS CONTINUED GROWTH FOR F.Y. 2002

WICO EXPECTS CONTINUED GROWTH FOR F.Y. 2002

Aug. 23, 2001 – It's all the same Caribbean Sea, but it's lopsided in the territory. While St. Thomas has long been listed as the world's No. 1 cruise port, St. Croix isn't even listed, according to the June/July issue of Lloyds Cruise International.
Edward Thomas, chief executive officer of the West Indian Co., told the Senate Finance Committee in a Fiscal Year 2002 budget hearing Thursday that he expects that 1.9 million passengers will visit St. Thomas and St. John this calendar year, and that two million will arrive in 2002.
St. Croix has a tiny percentage of that volume of cruise visitors. However, if an agreement between the V.I. government and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and its 13 member cruise lines is approved, Thomas said, St. Croix will see a 15 percent increase in summer traffic each year, with three or four ships calling per week during season.
Thomas said the agreement was sent to the FCCA two weeks ago, and he should have an acknowledgment soon. The agreement represents more than two years of work by a private-public task force co-chaired by St. Thomas businessman John deJongh Jr. and Sen. Vargrave Richards.
For St. Croix, there's a catch, though. As a caveat to the agreement, the government has to create and implement a plan to market St. Croix within six months of signing the agreement. Toward that end, cruise line senior sales and marketing officials are prepared to make site visits to St. Croix coordinated by the Tourism Department and the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce. They'll be seeking to develop a list of on shore activities and events for passengers and to see required infrastructure improvements.
Thomas said the passengers and crew coming to St. Thomas-St. John this year are putting $1.2 billion into the islands' economy, mainly in the retail and tour sectors.
There are 719 calls scheduled for St. Thomas-St. John in the coming season (October to April), Thomas said, and the Adventure of the Seas, another of the Eagle class vessels, the largest passenger ships in the world, is being added.
Thomas said WICO recently spent $20 million to make the pier 20 feet at the end of the dock 20 feet wider so as to allow taxis and tour buses to pick up passengers more easily. The company also spent $4 million on a 770-foot bulkhead encapsulation that will allow the Eagle megaships to berth at the dock.
Finance Chair Alicia "Chucky" Hansen broached a topic close to the heart of many a Crucian politician: "What about homeporting on St. Croix?" Thomas said he is and always has been a supporter of the idea, but that it was not his decision to make. "That falls into another agency," he said.
Hansen said she knew that Gordon Finch, executive director of the V.I. Port Authority, was against the idea. But "St. Croix is ready for homeporting now," she said.
Finch has said publicly that he will support homeporting on St. Croix once he is assured that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support it.
Thomas said he was pleased by recent legislation making Carifest a public nonprofit corporation, the Caribbean Cultural Heritage Center and Discovery Park Corp. Carifest has a 50-year lease on nine acres of WICO property adjacent to the cruise ship dock with plans to develop a theme park there. The WICO board will review the lease agreement at a meeting next week, Thomas said, adding, "We hope to move forward expeditiously."
The company also is in negotiations with the new owners of the decrepit Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina regarding the lease and development of some six acres of landfill west of the hotel, land that WICO owns.
Thomas said WICO in its last completed audit, ending in September 2000, showed a net income from operations of $2,142,553. This past March 15, the company paid $500,000 into the General Fund of the V.I. treasury in lieu of taxes. On May 30, it issued a dividend check to its parent corporation, the Public Finance Authority, for $1.5 million.
WICO manages the Havensight Shopping Mall on behalf of the Government Employees Retirement System, which owns it. The property has returned in excess of 13.5 percent on investment for the last few years, Thomas said, and earnings should be a little higher this year.
"Contrary to popular thinking," he said, "WICO disburses the entire earnings annually to the system — and has no input in how those earnings are eventually disposed of."

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