Feb. 10, 2006 — Frenchtown civic groups and a government agency are making efforts to work out a solution to problems created by an abrupt announcement from the government last week.
The Department of Planning and Natural Resources announced at a Friday meeting with the fishermen who use the area, that renovation work would begin before the end of February on the Gustave Quetel Fishing Center in Frenchtown.
The work, slated to begin Feb. 27, would displace the fishermen and at least partially close the adjacent parking lot. The fishermen were given less than 30 days notice by DPNR. The surrounding restaurants, which will be severely affected by less parking space, were given no notice.
Jean Greaux, president of the Committee for the Betterment of Carenage said Thursday evening, "We have already had talks with Ira Hobson, [Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner] to get relief for persons desirous of using the parking lot to attend the local restaurants. He was receptive. It's a work in progress."
Both groups want to use an area of the Joseph Aubain ballpark, situated in the middle of Frenchtown, as alternative parking.
Henry Richardson, Frenchtown Civic Organization president has the same idea. "We have to talk to the government agencies, Housing, Parks and Recreation and Public Works, and at least explore if something could be worked out. Right now, it's just Little League play. The ballpark would provide about 25-50 parking spaces, but it would have to be at your own risk parking, though the Little League doesn't usually hit balls to the other side of the park."
Jamal Nielsen, DPNR media relations coordinator, said Friday that the agency is looking into alternative parking areas, including one on the other side of Veterans Drive across from the Arturo Wattlington Sr. Post Office.
"DPNR has been working diligently to provide alternative parking," Nielsen said. "Negotiations are ongoing with the owner of the lot. We are asking the public to bear with us. In the end, it's going to work out for the whole community."
He said a meeting is planned for 3 p.m. Tuesday at the fishing center to discuss plans with the fishermen, the contractor and local businesses.
The $400,000 project has been on the books for several years. It is to be funded by a Community Development Block Grant, with additional funding from the Public Finance Authority.
Local businesses, as well as the fishermen, were taken aback at the sudden announcement. Ted Luszc, owner of the Hook, Line and Sinker restaurant, is distressed about the potential lack of parking.
Luscz said, "Parking is at a premium in Frenchtown, as is. Our customers will have no way to reach our parking lot in back if the front lot is closed off." Luscz said he and other business owners are all in favor of the refurbishing of the fish house. "But," he said, it should have been better planned."
Parking in Frenchtown is difficult. At best, it can be a traffic maze, according to those that use the area. Customers for McDonald's drive-in window line up in the street creating a vehicular logjam when driving into the area. The parking lot adjacent to the fish market accommodates about 20 cars, and it is always full. Adding to the lack of parking, a new floor was recently added to the Frenchtown Mall. The new businesses will have to share the current lot, which, is also almost always full.
Fisherman Baptiste Greaux said Friday morning, "For some of us, there is going to be hell to pay." Baptiste said he lives on the North Side, and would have to transfer his equipment to there. "They said they would put up a tent for us to sell fish," he said, "but I don't know where I would put my equipment. There's so much stuff in my room."
Ronnie Danet, a fisherman, said, "It will be good when it is done. We have 31 rooms of equipment to move. I don't know where I can sell my fish. And I am afraid of what the new rents will be."
Custom Builders has been awarded the contract for the renovation. Company owner Steve Lammens was off island Friday and not available for comment. However, Nielsen said Lammens would be at Tuesday's meeting.
The market renovation is a long-awaited project. The more than 20 year-old structure is in dire need of repair. It has had some paint jobs, but never an actual renovation. Paint is fading and peeling, the roof leaks, lights are rusted.
The new building will have sanitary fish cleaning and selling tables, handicap restrooms, covered public pavilions and new seating areas, Nielsen says. "Ultimately, it will improve the fishermen's business."
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