Dec. 5, 2006 — While the federal government has lent its support to developing a veterans museum and memorial complex on St. Croix, support from the local government has been lacking, testifiers said during Tuesday's Housing, Sports and Veterans Affairs Committee meeting.
According to Philip Masi, founder of Veterans Memorial Complex Inc., once completed the facility will be designated as a U.S. Park Service national landmark. However, the land on which the complex will be constructed has not yet been transferred by the V.I. government.
"We need a letter from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull committing the land for the complex," Masi said, adding that a "gala event" will soon be held in Washington to raise funds for the project. "The problem is that people won't want to invest in this if we don't even have the land yet," he said.
Plans to build a veterans complex have been in the works since 1993, Masi said. In 2001, however, Turnbull signed into law a bill which authorizes the governor to identify and set aside a parcel of land for the construction of the complex. The bill specifies several St. Croix sites, which have recently been narrowed down by a special committee consisting of several of the territory's veterans, senators and representatives of the Honorary Military and Monument Corp., the project's developer.
"As directed by Gov. Turnbull, eight properties were evaluated by the Department of Property and Procurement, and Estate Body Slob on St. Croix was deemed the most suitable site for the complex," said LaVerne P. Bailey, the department's director of property.
She added that Property and Procurement is in the process of surveying the designated area. "Once the survey map is complete and recorded at the Lieutenant Governor's Office, the property will be appraised and then transferred accordingly," Bailey said.
She did not specify how long the process would take.
Masi explained that until the local government commits the land and the Senate approves the lease, work on the complex would be stalled. "There was a bill moving through Congress to designate the U.S.V.I. Military Museum and Veterans Memorial Complex as a national park landmark," he said. "Until we get the land, the bill won't be approved. And if the bill is not approved, then we won't be able to generate support from the federal government for the project."
Masi added that all funding for the complex will be coming from the federal government or corporations on the mainland. "There is no cost to the V.I. government on this," he said. "But in order to launch the fund-raising campaigns we need to push this through, we need the land."
Egbert V. Thomas III, president of the Veteran's Memorial Complex Inc., a local nonprofit organization created to handle funds coming in for the project, added that Turnbull also has to appoint a full compliment of individuals to the organization's board of directors.
Masi said the facility is meant to be a two-story complex, replete with statues of V.I. veterans and oil paintings of battle scenes "from World War II to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan." He also said the complex may feature a plane flown in WWII by V.I. native Henry E. Rohlsen, one of the original Tuskegee airmen.
The complex would also feature a medical clinic for veterans, a theater and an auditorium.
After the meeting, Masi added that the complex would create an economic "boon" for the territory. "We haven't even put up one concrete wall yet, and already we have cruise lines interested in coming down to see the museum," he said. "This could be really great. All we need is the land."
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