Aug. 24, 2005 St. Gerard's Hall in Frederiksted was packed with more than 100 residents who came to listen and speak out about plans to service cruise ships anticipated to visit the Ann E. Abramson pier on St. Croix.
The audience got some unexpected good news as Sen. Craig Barshinger, who organized the meeting, read a correspondence dated Wednesday, Aug. 24, from Tourism Commissioner Pamela C. Richards to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull advising him the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn would make 11 daytime calls to the Frederiksted pier beginning October 15. Richards was not present at the meeting.
That good news was tempered by some not so good news. Rupert Ross, president of the Frederiksted Economic Development Association, reported that the waterfront revitalization project has been hit with a stop order until additional coastal zone management permits are acquired. Ross also said the dredging that was scheduled to begin on the Ann E. Abramson pier has not yet received the go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
"Someone needs to make these projects happen," Ross said.
St. Croix businessman Robert Merwin said the Army Corps reported that they received "more objections" than support for the project. Merwin said, "A small group of environmentalists who would not like to see any change," was behind the movement to stop the pier dredging. (See "Decision on Pier Dredging Permit Expected Thursday".) During the meeting, a petition of support was passed around for signatures.
Barshinger, who is in his first Senate term, campaigned on the promise of "one ship a week to St. Croix." He says he organized the meeting Wednesday "to provide all stakeholders with the opportunity to share with each other how they hope to participate in the return of cruise ships." Barshinger urged the audience to share its ideas, suggestions and recommendations on how they would provide services to future cruise ship passengers. "I made this my number-one priority," Barshinger said.
Representatives from the Small Business Administration and the Micro Loan program were on hand to provide information on low-cost business loans.
"I believe in keeping it real," said Sherry Ann Wiltshire, a member of Tourism's cruise ship task force. Wiltshire said the task force, which is headed by Richards, has been working to bring back cruise ships for the past four years. "We are reinventing the wheel," Wiltshire said. "Why pull and tug?"
Barshinger replied that the entire community needs to be involved because the cruise ships need to make money by selling tours of the island. Julia Renfroe, publisher of the St. Croix Guide Book, echoed Wiltshire's sentiments. "We've been working and we are ready to go," Renfroe said. "We just need the ships."
Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville told the audience the meeting was about "opening up the playing field" to more residents who would want to provide services to cruise ship passengers. "The cruise ships are just one aspect of strengthening the St. Croix tourism product," Figueroa-Serville said, adding that he advocates event, convention and sports tourism.
St. Croix Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Benjamin Rivera said the Chamber is ready to support small businesses but said there needs to be more "transparency" on the part of the government regarding its plans for tourism in St. Croix. "Where is the marketing plan?" he asked.
Several residents spoke about the island's image. "I am ashamed of St. Croix," businesswoman Ann E. Abramson said, adding that she had been on two cruises this year to destinations that were better maintained than St. Croix. Abramson also commented that it was very hard for individuals to get a business license.
Roger Dewy, executive director of the Community Foundation, spoke about the revitalization of the two St. Croix towns. He said some derelict buildings are owned by prominent families who refuse to fix the buildings, while other buildings needed to be boarded up and painted. Dewy also talked about the overgrown bushes that cover many of the roads. "There are 15 bushing crews on St. Thomas and four in St. Croix," he said.
Al Franklin, a member of Our Town Frederiksted, agreed, saying that "There is no minimum maintenance from the government" for the roads and towns.
Barshinger said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. "This shows a sincere desire for investing and believing in ourselves," he said, adding that the meeting also pointed out some obstacles the community faces. "I knew most of the problems, and I have specific legislation that address the problems."
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