Sept. 5, 2002 – The Port Authority has a plan to inject new life into St. Croix's economy with a project that has nothing to do with ships, planes or their respective ports.
VIPA is proposing to develop a 100-acre Commerce and Business Park that will offer a professional environment for new businesses, with recreational opportunities and a nod to archeology and history. It eventually is to include a hotel and conference center.
The land designated for the park surrounds Estate Betty's Hope adjacent to Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, bordered by Melvin E. Evans Highway and St. Croix's south shoreline.
"The site will have access to the high-speed global communications network and connectivity, as well as access to the newly expanded airport, now capable of accommodating larger jets and trans-Atlantic flights," Gordon Finch, VIPA executive director, said.
The master plan for the project will be presented at a public hearing before the St. Croix Coastal Zone Management Committee at 6 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Florence Williams Library in Christiansted. According to the drafters of the plan, permission is not being sought at this point to begin any actual development or construction.
The plan appears to leave nary a stone unturned. It was drafted by the de Jongh Group, architects, along with William Anglin Taylor, architect; William F. McCombs, civil engineer; Bio Impact Inc. environmental consultants; George Tyson, historian; and Richard Moore, economic consultant. The architects said they are looking to secure approval of the master plan, the preliminary direction and the design concept proposed for the project, which they expect will take several years to develop.
Darlan Brin, VIPA chief planner, said on Tuesday that the Estate Betty's Hope historic great house will be the focal point of the project, lending it cultural and archeological significance. He stressed that the park won't have an "industrial" look. "Most commercial parks today are much more of a campus environment," he said, "so people that work there can walk around or take bicycle rides."
In addition to the great house, other historic elements of the estate will be rehabilitated and preserved, including the masonry gateposts, rock fences and walls, and an old windmill converted to a cistern. The architects said they will select trees for the park that are unattractive to birds, which could be hazardous with the park's proximity to the airport. (The Federal Aviation Agency has ordered the Anguilla landfill adjacent to the airport closed by the end of this year in part because of hazards to aircraft posed by birds that feed at the dump.)
The park is the result of a two-year study by Triad Associates, a Pennsylvania consultant group VIPA commissioned as part of a "St. Croix Action Agenda" to improve the island's flagging economy.
Brin said, "We want to make the park an attractive physical offering, as well as a self-sufficient entity with backup power in case of a failure." He stressed the park's access to the high-speed global communications network and connectivity now on the island.
Finch said the historical significance of the site combined with its visual, recreational and environmental qualities make it a "very attractive setting." The park, he said, "will undoubtedly offer a high-quality business atmosphere with the appropriate infrastructure in a unique and convenient location."
Brin said the park is envisioned as a home for commercial light industry, as opposed to high-technology enterprises. He doesn't see it competing with the planned University of the Virgin Islands Research and Technology Park.
"We are a medium-tech park," he said. "We will have light industry, ordinary businesses and maybe a bank," he said, while adding that the concept would not rule out any high-tech industry that might want to take advantage of the site.
Finch said VIPA had offered to partner with the UVI park, offering the university space on the Port Authority land.
Contacted for comment, UVI President LaVerne Ragster said Wednesday, "We should not be negotiating the situation in the public arena." The UVI park has received much media attention because of concerns raised about locating it on land which might displace farmers. "We have not sat down at a formal setting to deal with it," Ragster said, adding, "There is no negativity in this."
Finch, however, seemingly put an end to the possibility of partnering: "We contacted UVI when Orville Kean was president," he said. "We received a letter from him saying 'Thanks, but no thanks.'" Finch said he had no intention of making the letter public.
What the park will offer tenants is an area already set up for light industry with the proper infrastructure in place, Brin said. "We might put up a building, or if someone wanted their own land, that's available, too," he said. "We want to make it as enticing as possible," he said, also citing the prospect of Economic Development Authority tax incentives.
The proposed hotel and conference center was mandated by the Legislature as a part of the development. The architects said it is shown on the master plan for site location purposes only (in the lower left quarter of the diagram). The complex is to be developed under the auspices of the Public Finance Authority, the architects said, and once a site has been finalized, a separate regulatory application process for the hotel will be followed.
Brin said the park development plans won't be impacted by VIPA's current $30 million commitment for the Crown Bay development project, because it will for the most part be federally funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Finch said he hopes to see ground broken by mid-2003.
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