Dec. 1, 2006 – Just a few months ago, Roosevelt Park was a green oasis surrounded by government buildings and private businesses on the western end of Charlotte Amalie. At its center, was a pond bursting with lavender water hyacinths. A colorful playground stood nearby.
Today, the 237-year-old facility is a seemingly abandoned construction site. And the culprit, as usual, is funding (or lack of it) and federal tax regulations.
The renovations, estimated at a total cost of $450,000, were funded in part by a $400,000 donation from Richard Driehaus Capital Management. At an event held at the park in December, St. Thomas Administrator James O'Bryan said the donation was part of the company's Economic Development Commission benefits package. The V.I. Energy Office of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources will also provide a $50,000 grant for improved lighting for the park.
Driehaus, the oldest and one of the territorys largest financial management companies, pulled out of the territory in November because of the new federal EDC source-revenue and residency requirements (See Driehaus Capital Management Pulling Out of the Territory).
Unfortunately the company's departure disrupted the renovation. However, plans are moving ahead to resume construction and finish the project.
Stanley Smith, Housing, Parks and Recreation (HPR) assistant commissioner, said Friday the funding came to a halt when Driehause left. He said the project had overrun the initial cost, due to changes along the way."
Smith said, We had to go to the Legislature, and we got a $300,000 appropriation from the Office of Management and Budget. However, since the cost of the project is more than $5,000, we have to start the process over again through Property and Procurement (P&P).
Smith said some HPR employees are doing cleanup work on the park now.
Smith said P&P has the paperwork now and is in the process of renewing the contract with Lubin Roberts, the original contractor. He could give no definite date for when the process will be completed, but he said it will not be in time for the parks traditional Christmas activities.
Myron Jackson, director of the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, said this week that OMB's new financial system stymied the ability to get the next phase of the project going on time. He confirmed that as soon as the paperwork gets through the system, work will begin (See Goverments New Finance System Could be the Grinch That Steals Christmas).
He added that for some of the things Driehaus verbally committed to, the money isnt there. These include a proposed veterans monument.
Some in the community have questioned why the work was undertaken in the first place, because the park appeared to be well-kept and attractive. When asked about the decision to renovate the park, Jackson said, Driehaus asked the park be spruced up, and the response from the community was affirmative, that it would be an improved urban environment.
The park has a rich history. At a groundbreaking for the project, Ruth Moolenaar, former educator and founding member of We From Upstreet, gave a brief presentation on the historic significance of the park.
She told the gathering that the park, originally known as Coconut Square, was renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in 1945. After his visit to the Virgin Islands in 1934, President Roosevelt pledged to help develop the Virgin Islands, Moolenaar said, adding that after his death in 1945, the park was named in his honor.
Moolenaar said the park was a safe and beautiful place for area residents. Throughout the years, private individuals and organizations, such as We From Upstreet, helped to maintain the park. She said We From Upstreet recommended that the parks original name, Coconut Square, be restored.
However, American Legion member Austin Monsanto voiced a different idea: he wants the park's name changed to Veterans Park to honor fallen V.I. veterans.
Yvonne Finch of We From Upstreet said Friday that the traditional Christmas activities that take place in the park will be held this year at Emancipation Garden. She said a press release is forthcoming on this years program.
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