March 27, 2002 – Although the proposed Crown Bay development was moved to the top of the agenda for Wednesday's Port Authority board meeting, discussion on the matter was postponed because Edward E. Thomas, chief executive of The West Indian Co., didn't appear.
Thomas, according to board chair Pamela Richards, had been invited to take part in discussing Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's recent directive that the Port Authority cancel its agreement with Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean International to undertake the expansion of the Crown Bay dock and the development of an adjacent retail facility.
The governor further said he wanted VIPA and WICO, two semi-autonomous agencies that have a historically acrimonious relationship, to work together on the project. (See "Turnbull halts cruise lines-Crown Bay deal".)
In a release issued last week, Thomas said that "WICO has accepted the governor's position and directive and is ready to begin immediately working with the V.I. Port Authority to move forward speedily to construct the facilities in consultation with the cruise lines whose vessels will use the facilities."
However, Richards said at Wednesday's meeting that Thomas had told her he would not attend a VIPA meeting until and unless he had receive a letter stating that VIPA had canceled its agreement with the cruise lines. Richards said she would send Thomas a copy of the Port Authority board's letter to the cruise lines.
On a motion by Attorney General Iver Stridiron, the board unanimously voted to write a letter to Thomas inviting him to a special board meeting on Tuesday, April 2 at 10 a.m. Stridiron said the letter should state that no postponement for any reason would be acceptable, due to the importance of the matter at hand.
VIPA's executive director, Gordon Finch, who is on vacation, came to the meeting Wednesday to be present for the board's meeting with Thomas. When the WICO president didn't appear, Finch left, saying he would be back for the Tuesday meeting.
On Wednesday afternoon, Radio One news carried a statement by Stridiron that the VIPA board would discuss with Thomas at the Tuesday meeting "what, if any, role his organization may wish to play" in the Crown Bay development project.
Stridiron added, "We have determined that VIPA has the wherewithal, the financial strength, to develop Crown Bay without another entity. But we will honor the governor's request that we meet and discuss" the development with WICO officials. He added that while the Port Authority has the funds for Crown Bay, "we also have numerous other projects we want to move forward. If we had found an entity to put up $31 million (as the cruise lines had proposed to do), we would have used our own funds for these [other] projects."
Now, with the governor's directive, he said, "what will happen is we will develop Crown Bay with or without WICO, but with no guarantees the cruise lines will be calling for the next 30 years." The letter of agreement with the cruise lines involved a 30-year lease of the property for the retail development. "We would have had a contract in black and white guaranteeing they would be here for 30 years," the attorney general continued. Referring to the planned dock expansion, he added, "We didn't want to have a white elephant in Crown Bay."
Stridiron said he doesn't believe the governor's decision will negatively impact the relationship between VIPA and the cruise lines. He said he spoke with cruise executives at the annual Seatrade cruise industry convention that he, Turnbull, Thomas and other government officials attended two weeks ago in Miami.
"They accept that VIPA has always been fully in favor of the Crown Bay project, and they have expressed a desire to continue to call on St. Thomas, what they called the 'premier port in the world,'" Stridiron said.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.