To the Source:
In a recent Open Forum piece, former senator Michael Paiewonsky decried what he called the "final coup de grace" to the historic district of Charlotte Amalie. [See "Build a mall and they won't come".]
What was this terrible development? Believe it or not, Mr. Paiewonsky was referring to the new shopping facilities to be built at Crown Bay under agreement with our Port Authority by two of the key cruise lines serving these islands.
To this hysteria about the so-called coup de grace, I can only respond: Lets be real! The historic district of Charlotte Amalie is too rich in commercial activity, physical charm, shopping diversity and, yes, history to become a "sleepy hollow" bereft of tourist activity because of shopping alternatives at Havensight or Crown Bay.
What downtown Charlotte Amalie needs, however — and this is probably applicable to Christiansted, Frederiksted and Cruz Bay — is a common vision to guide the refurbishment of the district, its marketing and its maintenance as a place of beauty and interest for tourists — and, more importantly, for residents.
We need to take a page from the redevelopment chapters of New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., and establish public-private downtown development organizations that have as their sole focus the aesthetic appeal and economic vitality of their district. Such a "downtown" development organization would be no different, albeit larger, than the tenant organizations that are in place in most large shopping centers.
Such an organization would have as its mandate, for example, the cleaning of the area (thus relieving Public Works of the responsibility), providing security (enabling the Police to focus on other areas), and common marketing and advertising (to supplement the work of Tourism).
In the Five Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan, the establishment of downtown development organizations was suggested. The governor has done nothing in response to this recommendation. The proposed approach is innovative but not unusual or risky. It would be a productive step toward ensuring economic opportunity for our people.
Just as we should avoid defeatist cries of doom and gloom, so we should not be afraid to try something new or different when we have problems that need some fixing!
John P. de Jongh Jr.
Editor's note: John P. de Jongh Jr. chaired the V.I. Economic Recovery Task Force that produced the Five Year Operating and Strategic Financial Plan and co-chaired the Cruise Ship Task Force that recently negotiated a Long Term Operating Agreement with the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association and its member lines. He is serving his second term as president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce.