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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, May 30, 2024


Nov. 26, 2001 – If things go Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd's way, St. Thomas will once again have a drag-racing strip, possibly by Carnival next year. But he and others readily admit some roadblocks could stand in the way.
The Harthman family has donated a section of Brookman Road property to the government for use as the proposed strip, said Liburd who along with Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Carlton Dowe and Celestino A. White Sr. met Friday night in the Senate chambers to hear from members of the Harthman family, Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood, and representatives of the St. Thomas and St. Croix Drag Racing Associations.
"The Harthman family has agreed to provide a space for the drag racers," Liburd said. "They want to do this for the people of the Virgin Islands. In addition, they are giving space for bleachers, a concession and parking. Hopefully by Carnival, we will be running. You cannot want anything better than that."
He described the Harthmans, who have extensive mid-island land holdings, as "a reputable family," saying "they want to give back to the community." He said he had approached the Harthmans about other land they own, and they decided on the Bovoni locale because they felt it would provide the minimum amount of resistance.
"They are willing to give a new road to the government at no cost, because they understand the plight of the younsters who want to race," Liburd said. "The strip of Brookman Road on which the racing track would be built will be replaced with a new road, from the concrete company all the way down to the wreck shop. They just want to make sure there are provisions for the wreck shop to have an entrance way."
Gary Thomas, St.Croix Drag Racing Association secretary, was quoted in a release from the Legislature as saying, "I am telling you from experience … The people in the neighborhood are going to oppose you building a track, but you have to be persistent."
Sammie Harthman said, "We don't foresee any major problems, but we expect controversy from the community. We don't want to give the property to the government if they are not going to use it."
White noted it was through Liburd's efforts that a drag strip was built on St. Croix. "It seems like something easy, but there will be a number of obstacles," White said.
In the 1970s and '80s, there was a drag strip at a different Bovoni location, near the entrance to the landfill. It became mired in controversy over land ownership, noise and parking problems and was closed a decade ago. According to Roberto O 'Neal, president of the St. Thomas Drag Racing Association, that property had been given to the association by the government in 1972.
"The Property and Procurement Department decided that the land didn't belong to the association," O'Neal said. "But they didn't have any proof of that. I have all the documentation."
O'Neal added, "They took the land and leased it to business people without checking on it. I've been fighting it for the last four years." He said it was late Gov. Cyril E. King's idea to give the land to the association and that it was a portion of a larger land area that had been reserved for a proposed airport in the lagoon area, a plan which was abandoned.
King "said he was going to extend the land by a quarter of a mile, but he died before he could do that," O 'Neal said.
About the new proposal, O 'Neal said, "This is a very good idea, but we have to make sure it is going to work right for all of us."
"The first thing we need to do is get the tract," Liburd said. "I have the full commitment of the majority for this project." Noting Callwood's presence at the Friday night meeting, he added, "We are going to put in the new road and also look at the flooding and drainage issues in the area. My dream is to get this going by Carnival. We have the opportunity of a lifetime – let us do our best to make it happen."
Liburd said the next step will be to have Public Works survey the property, then have it transferred from the Harthman family to the V.I. government. "After that," he said, "we will probably have a resolution in the Legislature. I would like to see the property named for the Harthman family."
He declined to be specific on whether public hearings would be held on the proposal. "We will put the information out to the public, and see then if we need to have public meetings," he said.
Cole, Dowe and White are all in Atlanta this week to attend a National Caucus of Black Legislators conference until the end of the week and were not available for comment.
The Legislature recently approved a petition from the Harthman family to have some 27 acres of property they own behind Tutu Park Mall rezoned for commercial development. The bill is among a number of others on the governor's desk awaiting action. The family also owns the land where the mall itself was built, property which they leased long term to the developers.

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