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Wednesday, February 8, 2023


Dec. 5, 2001 – Port Authority executive director Gordon Finch left no doubt in anybody's mind about where he stands on the planned Crown Bay development project in his address Wednesday at the weekly Rotary II meeting.
"Let me begin by telling you, you are not going to change my mind about Crown Bay," Finch told those gathered for the luncheon at Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort. "I have marching orders from my board, and VIPA intends to develop Crown Bay." He added that he would not address questions about controversial aspects of the development.
VIPA has entered into a partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Carnival Cruise Lines whereby the cruise lines will extend the existing dock and build a shopping center on the adjacent property. The dock expansion is widely recognized as essential to the future of St. Thomas as the cruise capital of the Caribbean. The shopping complex, on the other hand, has come in for harsh criticism.
The St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce and many Charlotte Amalie retailers and property owners have said the development could be the death knell for downtown shopping and development. Chamber president John de Jongh Jr. has said the agreement "doesn't look at the larger issues. What is the financial impact on the community?"
Finch limited his comments on the impact the development will have on the community to a paraphrase of two of the Rotary tenets: "Will it be beneficial to everyone?" and "Is it fair to both parties?" He answered himself with a resounding "Yes" to both questions.
"If the Virgin Islands wants to remain a major player in the cruise business, we have to grow," Finch told the Rotary audience. "Before Hurricane Hugo, we were No. 1" in the world as a cruise ship port. "Now, we're down to about 13 on the list. We are losing market share because we haven't grown. There are two docks. I won't name them. One can expand, and one can't."
He continued, "I could care less if you agree with me. I'm telling it like it is. This is my board talking; this is what they told me. It's not a matter of whether Crown Bay should be developed. It's a matter of whether we want to stay in the ball game. If we don't grow, we could be No. 30."
He briefly traced the history of the Crown Bay project, which has been in the works one way or another since 1982, when an entity called Crown Bay Development tried to finance a project utilizing materials left over from an extension at Cyril E. King Airport. He said the company ran into difficulties, without elaborating, and the project got nowhere.
When the Port Authority decided to get involved in developing the area, it sent out requests for proposals to master developers, Finch said. But it got no takers — until first one cruise line then, quickly, another approached the authority.
"Rumors" about dangerous wind and wave action at Crown Bay were an obstacle, Finch said, but the cruise lines were eager to gain access to Crown Bay for their newer, larger ships because passengers do not like being taken ashore by tenders when there is no room at the West Indian Co. dock and vessels have to anchor in the harbor.
"We did a study which proved the wind and wave activity was not a threat," Finch said, and the plan proceeded.
A letter of intent with the Port Authority calls for the cruise lines to spend $31 million to develop the dock and shopping center, and to receive port fee exemptions of 75 percent for the first 20 years of the agreement and 25 percent for the 10 years after that. The two cruise lines would have priority berthing at the expanded dock. VIPA will govern who leases space from the development.
Finch shed light on one aspect of the development not addressed in the letter of intent. He said the Port Authority will partner with the Public Works Department to develop the infrastructure — building sidewalks, widening roads, installing lights — in the development area in Sub Base. Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood, a member of the VIPA board, said at a board meeting last summer that his department couldn't afford to do the work.
Finch also gave an update on several other VIPA projects. He said the authority has spent about $126,000 on paving, power lines and parking lot work at the Boston Harbor Cruises boarding area in Gallows Bay on St. Croix.
And he said a comprehensive study by the consulting firm Triad of what's needed for St. Croix to become a "sustainable economic jurisdiction" is complete. The study, announced last May, was to determine what type of industrial development is best suited for the island, particularly for developing 100 acres of government land adjacent to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport into a business park. The $430,000 study was to have been completed by the end of September. He did not indicate when the findings would be made public.

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