The West Indian Company Limited (WICO), Disney Cruise Lines and Yacht Haven Grande (YHG) had a shared vision. Build a new cruise pier to the right of YHG. Although no additional retail was contemplated, an important element of the design provided public space for community events and concerts. Please view the long bay landing project on Utube.
Additional berthing capacity would support the long-term growth of the cruise industry in St. Thomas and help reverse the decline in cruise passenger arrivals and calls. Long term operating agreements with the partner lines would guarantee traffic and increased summer calls which are today in steep decline. The mechanism for financing this multi-million-dollar pier was through a discount on the per passenger landing fee over 20 or 30 years granted to the cruise lines in exchange for fronting the initial capital expense. This financing deal was exceptionally beneficial to the Virgin Islands.
The commencement date for construction was reported as 2017. Many local companies would have been utilized and jobs created for the duration of the construction. Millions of new dollars would have flowed into the economy.
From media reports the Army Core of Engineers was solidly behind the project and approval would have been forth coming. There was no environmental impact from the required dredging since all of it would be used to for the upland portion around the dock.
Media reports also indicated that the West Indian Company Limited had engaged in docking feasibility studies with the preeminent firm for ship docking. The result of the simulation test conducted by the captain of the Oasis and the captain of the Epic showed the Long Bay Dock was perfect.
To state the obvious, every time a cruise ship docks in St. Thomas, the government receives millions in various taxes that include passenger head taxes, landing fees, wharfage fees, tonnage fees water usage fees. Every dollar spent by visitors in our local economy generates an additional 5 percent gross receipt tax for the government. The more ship visits, the greater the economic benefits. Every 100 new ship calls to the territory translates into hundreds of millions of dollars of new revenue for the Virgin Islands Government annually.
For reasons unknown, this critically important capital project was scraped. The result, Disney and Norwegian cruise lines signed 15 year operating agreements with the British Virgin Islands. The projected annual cruise traffic for the Tortola dock is estimated at 750,000 for 2017 representing tremendous growth in passenger arrivals for that destination.
Merchants in St. Thomas who have been holding on through years of economic downturn were dealt a grievous blow as the cruise lines continued to shift calls to other destinations that offer stronger partnerships.
We were told by our government that Crown Bay would be investigated as an alternative dock site and that the Port Authority would begin a feasibility analysis. What are the results of those tests?
It’s been reported that Crown Bay is a tough sell to the cruise lines. Situated in the industrial area it does not offer their passengers an ideal customer service experience when entering our port. It is considered a secondary dock.
As important, the turning radius for mega ships maneuvering in that narrow channel in Crown Bay is challenging compared to the Long Bay dock option. Also, any dredging in the Crown Bay area creates an environmental impact issue. Where do you place the dredge? Removing it adds substantially to the cost of any Crown Bay Dock.
Attached is an artistic rendering dating to the early 1990’s when the Danish West India company were themselves contemplating building a dock at Long Bay.
Recently I spoke unofficially with the Florida Cruise Ship Association. It is very clear from that conversation that without additional berthing capacity, there will be no growth but continued decline of ship calls to St. Thomas. Therefore, the government should move expeditiously to reopen discussions with the cruise lines during the upcoming Sea Trade conference. Why are we chasing the hard sell of Crown Bay when our cruise line partners have a clear preference for the Long Bay dock option? Not to mention, it is far more economically viable and can be fast tracked now.
In 2015 we had 560 cruise visits. In 2016 we had 535 cruise visits. 2017 will be less than 535 visits. Summer cruise calls are at a historic low. We have lost our position as the premier cruise destination in the region. This negative trend, if not reversed, will lead to more store closings, loss of jobs, and diminished tax collection. Can the Virgin Islands afford to do nothing as the cruise industry moves to other destinations?
Let’s bring more cruise passengers to the territory, (many of those cruise passengers return as hotel guests). Let’s sign long term operating agreements guaranteeing summer cruise traffic. Let’s embrace our cruise line partners and not send them to other destinations.
Build the Long Bay Dock. The cruise ships will come.
Editor’s note: Filippo Cassinelli runs A.H. Riise Mall on St. Thomas, which has been in his family since 1928. (This is the first in a five part series)