May 19, 2005 — The Port Authority Board once again got a look at what the Waterfront could be if some improvements were made. At a meeting Wednesday they heard a new twist on an improvement project that has been brought before them repeatedly over the past several years.
"No one wants to carry the ball with this project, so it has been dormant for a long time," said Darlin Brin, executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority.
According to past Source reports, the plans to upgrade Waterfront have been in the works since about 2001. (See St. Thomas Source story "Hearings to Come on Waterfront Upgrade Plans").
But Brin says it's time to take action, and has asked the Yssis Architectural Group to continue to plan improvements on the "water side" of Veteran's Drive. "Activities have significantly increased on the water side in terms of passengers," he said.
In addition to passenger ferries, mega yachts use the Waterfront as a prime spot to berth during the tourist season. There are typically seven to 10 mega yachts pulled up to the apron every day, but there have been as many as 16 there at a time.
Part of the plan is to upgrade ferry docks and create finger piers to accommodate those mega yachts. Access to the piers would be controlled, giving the boats increased security. Services such as a dry line for fuel, power, telephone, high speed internet and cable TV would also be installed.
To proceed with the plan, Brin said, VIPA would have to seek permits from various agencies; a process he estimates would take about eight months. There's also the issue of financing. "Port Authority doesn't have the wherewithal. It will have to be built in phases. The ferry docks alone will cost $5 million," Brin said. "There are a lot of issues that will be associated with these concepts, but we're prepared to face them."
According to John Daniels of Yssis Architectural Group, the part of the plan discussed at the board meeting deals with a 1000 foot strip of Waterfront apron, from King's Wharf to the Greenhouse.
Many aesthetic improvements are planned to bring the Waterfront back to its historic roots, such as planting palm trees and adding historic lights.
"If we're going to improve the water side and make it more efficient that will encourage more use," said Chaneel Callwood-Daniels of Yssis "The land side improvements will follow."
The board agreed to permit Brin to proceed with the plan, provided he presents the board with more information on funding the project.
Board approval of an application by the Caledonia Ferry Company to lease space at the Gallows Bay Terminal Facility means the St. Thomas-St. Croix fast ferry could soon be operating year round. Caledonia plans to offer daily ferry service between the two islands, making the one-way trip in less than an hour. The company promises "attractive rates" and improvements to the terminal passenger service area.
The lease will run for three years, with an optional two-year extension. The 320 square foot area will be leased at an initial rate of $5.50 per square foot for the first three years, and will increase based on the Consumer Price Index.
The Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority will also be leasing space from VIPA if an agreement can be reached. The Waste Management Authority received the lease form in April.
"The problem that we've run into is that much of the resources we have available are tied up with the environmental users fee," said Iver Stridiron, general council for the VIWMA
VIPA initially wanted $30 per square foot for the space, while the WMA wanted to pay $12. They reached a compromise at $18 per square foot, which makes the annual leasing cost nearly $17,000. That's too much, Stridiron said, for a startup authority.
Stridiron asked the board to consider permanently reducing the rent to $11,000 a year (or $12 per square foot), and "build in an escalator to allow our startup agency to move forward," he said. In exchange, the VIWMA would also dispose of solid waste for the Port Authority.
Rodgers asked for time to see if "we can make minor adjustments and still meet our payments," he said. "It needs to be looked at financially because it's a business."
The board was also updated on several other projects, including:
— Cyril E. King Airport terminal building.
Renovation of the Federal Inspection Services Area is complete.
— Red Hook Intermodal Transit Terminal.
This project, which is 15 percent complete, experienced some delays in revising water quality permits. So far the Piti Bleu ramp has been demolished, sheet piles have been driven for the cargo barge ramp, and the walers and tie rods are in place and anchored for the ramp. Power poles and lights have been installed for the temporary parking lot, which will be given a final inspection over the weekend.
— Enighed Pond Development.
The development is 96 percent complete, however work has stopped and the project has been sent to mediation. At issue are "acceptable terms of project completion," according to a project status report.
— Crown Bay Marina.
According to reports presented to the board, the project is 92 percent complete, and is expected to finish by June. The board voted Wednesday to approve Alcatraz Technology's bid to provide electrical security improvements in the amount of $1.5 million.
Present for the meeting were board Chairman Robert O'Conner Jr., Vice Chairman James Rodgers, Secretary Hector Peguero, acting Commissioner of Public Works George Phillips, and Leslie Milliner. Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, EDA chairman Dean Plaskett, and Attorney General Alva Swan did not attend.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.