July 16, 2003 – The Frederiksted Economic Revitalization Project was the main item of discussion at the Port Authority board meeting on Wednesday as Public Finance Authority executive Kenneth Mapp sought $2 million in backing and approval to go forward with the project.
Lacking a quorum, the board could not make decisions but held an informal discussion.
Harvey Sasso, president of Coastal Systems Development, Inc. said his company's focus is not "designing a pier, but designing an experience."
The plan is to turn the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility — the formal name for the Frederiksted pier — from a barren concrete structure isolated from Frederiksted town into a lush park with open areas, fountains and cobbled brick pedestrian paths integrated into the town waterfront area.
Referring to cruise ship visitors, Sasso said: "By the time they get to Strand Street, they have a feeling that this town is great."
The project plans call for many improvements to existing structures. The clock tower base would be removed and replaced by a structure with seat steps. The Vendors Plaza would be relocated away from a tightly congested area, and vendors would be assigned separate permanent structures without walls to conduct their business.
Among the other additions envisioned are a Customs building, security buildings at each end of the pier, a pedestrian lawn, a fountain plaza with benches, parking with glass block pavers, entrance columns, evening security and a pedestrian promenade with benches.
Improvements also would be made in Frederiksted itself. Mapp proposed a historical tour called "The Path of Charm" that would taken in "the most historic properties."
Mapp, who is the PFA's administrative and financial director, also detailed plans to improve structures in Christiansted. He said the Historic Preservation Commission has approved plans to renovate the King's Alley Hotel, which the PFA currently owns, a project estimated at $2 million.
Mapp said it was unfortunate that the Legislature did not commit the $80 million sought by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull build a 250-room hotel on St. Croix in the bond authorization bill it passed Tuesday night. (See "Approval of bond bill ends long day's debate".)
"If we know we don't want tourists on St. Croix, we should put our marbles in another basket," Mapp said.
He projected that the revitalization project would generate business opportunities, bring tourists back to St. Croix and build the island as a quality visitor destination.
VIPA board members said it is important for the cruise lines to have some say in the project. Darlan Brin, VIPA executive director, said he will try to get representatives of the cruise lines to see the presentation.
Board member Leslie Milliner said of the Frederiksted project: "I think this is the step in the right direction. "It has all the trimmings of bringing St. Croix back to life."
Millions of dollars were spent in recent years rebuilding and expanding the pier. In May and June of 2002, three cruise lines announced they were taking St. Croix off their itineraries because of crime concerns and/or lack of customer demand. In the last year, only one ship, Celebrity Cruises' Constellation, called regularly, making a total of 17 visits.
Mapp asked the Port Authority for $2 million to develop the Abramson Marine Facility and to approve the development of the Strand Street end of the pier, which is under VIPA's jurisdiction. Action on the requests will be taken at a later meeting.
The PFA would pay $1 million to develop two buildings for Port Authority services and provisions, Mapp said, estimating the overall project's cost at $6 million.
"It will be a challenge to find the money to do it," board member Robert O'Connor Jr. said.
Due to financial constraints, the board discussed the possibility of doing the project in phases. The idea met with opposition from Attorney General Iver Stridiron, the board's vice chair, who presided at the meeting in the absence of the chair, Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards.
"I am in favor of not doing it in phases," Stridiron said, expressing concern that the project would come to an untimely halt and leave things looking worse than before.
Brin said the work could be done in phases in such a way that the project would look attractive at the end of each stage. "The landscape architect would have to come up a plan that looks finished," he said.
Mapp said that if the Port Authority board approves the plan, it should take five to six weeks to begin the bidding process.
Other items on the meeting agenda that were not taken up for lack of a quorum included a matters relating to V.I. Fast Ferry, which has provided winter season service between St. Thomas and St. Croix for the last two years; the Crown Bay commercial center under development on St. Thomas; repairs to the federal inspection building in Cruz Bay, St. John; and ratification of an earlier vote by polling of board members on the "waiver of docking fees for cruise ship filming."
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