Feb. 4, 2004 – "Oh, my," says Mrs. Smith, stepping off the gangplank of the cruise ship docked at the Frederiksted pier. "Just look at all that," she says, waving her hand at tropical flora a short distance away.
"Let's hurry," her 10-year-old says. "Come on! I want to see that stone building over there. I think it's a sugar mill, and they're s'posed to have water rides, too."
"Wait a minute," says Mr. Smith. "We'll catch one of the trolleys over to the park." A brightly colored trolley, sort of like the ones in Key West, pulls up — and off they go to Ay Ay Village.
Ay Ay is the Carib Indian name for St. Croix; it means water island. And Ay Ay is the name for a proposed island wonderland which the Port Authority board heard about at its monthly meeting on Wednesday morning.
The proposal could become reality in two or three years, say Charles A. Bell and Doug Rutledge, who presented the board with a feasibility study of Ay Ay, envisioned as a cultural, historical and ecological attraction for St. Croix.
An economic study done for VIPA by Triad, a community development consultant, a couple of years ago, found that cruise ships were shying away from St. Croix because passengers complained "there was nothing to do." Triad recommended developing something unique to the island to change that.
Darlan Brin, VIPA executive director, was among those listening. About eight months ago, he began working with planners to develop such an idea. He drew on the knowledge of the St. Croix community, bringing in business owners, the Chamber of Commerce and the Hotel and Tourism Association, other government entities and individuals.
Bell is a principal with EDSA Planners, a landscape architecture, design and planning firm with offices in Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and elsewhere; Rutledge is director of Baker Leisure Group, an Orlando consulting firm which has developed and implemented marketing and promotional programs at major family-oriented theme parks.
The park they proposed Wednesday for St. Croix would be beautiful, world-class and enormous, covering about 50 acres. It would require an investment of about $101.5 million, according to the study. And without the return of cruise ships to St. Croix, it won't happen.
Bell said the existing Caribbean market for cruise ship passengers is 15 million persons per year. He hopes to tap into about 5 percent, or 765,000 of them, and he estimates their spending in the region at about $56.3 million annually.
The 73-page feasibility study report states that if the project exceeds a life of 20 years, projected revenues over that period could exceed $1.2 billion. Based on estimates, gross revenues would exceed the overall level of spending by the second year, and could reach the total project costs based on phasing strategy. Since the capital requirements are significant, the report states, operating costs, capital improvements and maintenance would be sourced through operating revenues.
The park would consist of five areas:
– Ay Ay Village, a cultural shopping, dining and entertainment area.
– The Ay Ay beachfront, with watersports activities, non-ticketed and open to the public.
– Discovery Aqua Park, a water park in a natural environment with water rides.
– Discovery Marine Park, with interactive sea-life attractions and marine research facilities.
– Discovery Eco-Park, with native flora and fauna, an aviary and a rainforest; or with a connection to St. Croix's extant rainforest.
Amy Dempsey of Bioimpact on St. Croix has been working closely with the promoters, studying the potential ecological impact of the project on coral and other marine life.
As related projects down the road, Bell and Rutledge mentioned hotels and time-share accommodations. They also stressed that the park would have a spinoff effect on other St. Croix businesses. While cruise passengers are the target group, the project would also appeal to overnight visitors and locals from St. Thomas and St. John, they said.
Board members warmed to the idea, albeit with some reservations about locale. The study identified four potential sites — William and Punch property, Butler Bay and the VIPA Business and Commerce Park, all in the Frederiksted area; and Coakley Bay east of Christiansted. The business and commerce park property would be available at no cost, but with the disadvantages of an exposed windy location, noise from aircraft and the Hovensa refinery, and poor water quality.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron wondered if the project wasn't "outsized." Bell said "capture rates" are based on square footage and determine the size.
The next step, Bell and Rutledge said, is to submit a "white paper" to VIPA. First, they said, they have to "pitch" to developers and to the cruise lines. They said St. Croix would be desirable to developers because it is a politically and socially stable market. They suggested the authority "come together" with the Public Finance Authority with an eye to floating bonds for the project, and with the Economic Development Authority to explore tax breaks.
They said they anticipate returning to the Port Authority with their white paper in about two weeks.
Board members present Wednesday were Pamela Richards, the chair; and Wayne Callwood, Robert O'Connor Jr., Hector Peguero, Dean Plaskett, James Rogers and Stridiron.
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