April 24, 2002- The Port Authority board of governors got hit with two broadsides at its Tuesday meeting — news that Carnival Cruise Lines was on the verge of abandoning St. Croix as a port of call and the announcement by Gordon Finch that he had decided to step down as VIPA's executive director.
The cruise line confirmed its intentions on Wednesday, and Attorney General Iver Stridiron, a VIPA board member, confirmed that Finch had stated his intention to resign at the end of this year after more than a decade as the person in charge of day-to-day administration of the Port Authority.
"We tried to talk him out of it," Stridiron said.
Finch began his announcement in open session during the regular board meeting on St. Thomas but was interrupted by the chair, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, who said the board would take up the matter in executive session.
According to Stridiron, Finch stated at the meeting that he felt he had accomplished what he had hoped to do, including bringing to fruition the Crown Bay, Enighed Pond and Red Hook development projects.
For the last couple of years, Finch as chief executive of the Port Authority and Edward Thomas Sr., CEO of The West Indian Co., have been at loggerheads over Crown Bay development — an idea which has been aired for 20 years.
Debate initially was over the relative merits of developing the second dock area and shopping center for St. Thomas versus investing in a cruise ship homeporting facility on St. Croix, with Finch strongly backing the Crown Bay project while holding that one did not necessarily rule out the other. In December of 2000, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull convened a meeting of the two entities' boards in an effort to smooth the waters.
Last August, VIPA signed a letter of agreement with Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. for the cruise line companies to invest $31 million in extending the Crown Bay dock and developing an adjacent retail facility in return for port tax exemptions. WICO protested that the agreement would give the cruise lines control over berthing on St. Thomas and take shoppers away from Havensight Mall, and the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce issued a position paper opposing the deal on similar grounds including likely loss of business by downtown merchants.
At a December Rotary Club meeting, Finch told the gathering, "You are not going to change my mind about Crown Bay. I have marching orders from my board, and VIPA intends to develop Crown Bay." Saying that prior to Hurricane Hugo, St. Thomas had the No. 1 cruise port in the world, he added, "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."
In March, however, while Finch, Thomas and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull were all in Miami Beach attending the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention, the governor issued a press released distributed back home saying he would instruct the Port Authority to "cancel" the agreement with the cruise line. "I believe it is important that the V.I. maintain full control of its harbor and harbor development," he said.
In the release, Turnbull also said he had "instructed The West Indian Co. and the Virgin Islands Port Authority to work together on the rapid expansion and development of the Crown Bay port facilities." But at the start of April, the VIPA board voted to proceed with developing the dock on its own, with no help from WICO or any other entity.
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