The V.I. Port Authority is holding a public meeting Thursday, Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. about the possibility of constructing a multipurpose center – a place where the community can gather for public meetings and events in Cruz Bay, St. John. But where can they hold such a meeting?
Venues that are sheltered from the weather and can accommodate crowds are scarce on St. John. The only choice is the Legislative Annex in Cruz Bay.
In the late 1980s, the ballrooms at the Virgin Grande Hotel (which became the Hyatt and then the Westin Hotel) were the premier sites for public concerts, town halls, fundraisers, candidate forums, conferences, galas, as well as private events.
However, in 2016, the Westin on St. John began restructuring as a time-share resort and then was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017. When it reopened in 2019, it no longer offered any facilities to accommodate the public.
Hurricane Irma also did major damage to Caneel Bay Resort and the Julius E. Sprauve School cafetorium, two other venues with roofs for public gatherings.
The ballpark near the Sprauve School – where sports events, queen shows, and revivals were held in the open air – now houses the modular units that serve as classrooms for the school. And the National Park ballfield, under reconstruction, since it served as a staging site for WAPA contractors after the hurricanes, is just now reopening for public use.
Only two outdoor spaces remain – Frank Powell Sr. Park (across from the ferry dock) is available for public gatherings, and the Port Authority’s parking lot (across from the post office) serves as the venue for St. John carnival events, but seating, sound systems, and tents must be brought in.
Thus in 2022, there’s really only one comfortable choice for public meetings near Cruz Bay – the Cleone H. Creque Legislative Conference Room in the Legislative Annex. Although its use is limited to government entities, it’s indoors, air-conditioned, and equipped with up-to-date technology.
The problem is the conference room can hold only about 75 people. At Thursday’s meeting, there’s a good chance that many more will turn out. On Tuesday, Brathwaite announced that the meeting will be available to view via Zoom. Click here for the Zoom link or use the Meeting ID: 818 1516 5657 and Password: 113142.
Thursday’s meeting is intended “to gather information and feedback from the residents of St. John to determine the needs, wants and a ‘wish-list’ of features that residents would like at the Cultural Center planned for Enighed Pond,” said Monifa Marrero Brathwaite, public information officer for the Port Authority.
The proposed site is a property located between the gravel parking lot near Cruz Bay and the Theovald E. Moorehead Marine Facility (commonly known as the barge ramp.) The site is now under the management of the Port Authority, which is using funds for the design phase through a $400,000 appropriation from the 34th Legislature via Act No. 8473.
When the Source posed questions to the Port Authority about the nature of the proposed site and the scope of the project, Brathwaite responded, “Specific details about the project site will be provided at the meeting by our Engineering Team and our marine engineering consultants, Moffatt and Nichol.” Port Authority Executive Director Carleton Dowe will chair the meeting, according to a news release.
“After VIPA ascertains what the community would like at the Center, our marine engineering consultants will determine the feasibility and draft design plans for the project,” Brathwaite continued. “We will keep the community informed as we move forward.”
Plans for a multipurpose center have been in the works since the 1980s when a design was drawn up by architect Doug White. The project moved closer to becoming a reality in 2010 when funds allotted to the St. John Capital Improvement Fund became available, according to an article in St. John Tradewinds News.
At that time, the proposed site was the parking lot near the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and was designed to include an indoor basketball court, stage, kitchen, meeting rooms, and dorms for visiting sports teams. The building would also be suitable as a hurricane shelter in the event of a disaster.
It’s unclear why the plans languished from 2010 until 2021, when the Legislature appropriated funds, but the need for a multipurpose center continues, especially one that can double as a hurricane shelter.
As another hurricane season reaches its peak, St. John residents have been advised to plan to shelter in place or move in with friends and family. Only the Senior Center in Estate Adrian has been approved as a hurricane shelter, and it can only accommodate up to 15 people.