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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, May 24, 2024


Dec. 17, 2001 – Board members from the Port Authority, The West Indian Co. and the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce met Monday morning with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull at Government House to discuss plans in the works for two cruise lines to expand the Crown Bay dock and develop and operate an adjacent shopping complex.
The governor, a career educator, sent them away with homework: Each group is to submit a position paper to him by Friday, Attorney General Iver Stridiron, a member of the Port Authority board who was at the meeting, said afterward.
"My position is clear," he said. "I will give the governor the best legal and practical advice I can."
Stridiron said he firmly believes it is in the territory's best interest to go forward with the plans set forth in a letter of intent signed months ago by the Port Authority, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Carnival Corp. The agreement calls for the cruise lines to fund the $31 million project and pay VIPA $25,000 a year initially to lease the land for up to 50 years. The cruise lines would not pay 75 percent of port taxes for the first 20 years and would have priority berthing at the Crown Bay dock.
"It is absolutely not true that the cruise ships would control the harbor," Stridiron said, in response to fears expressed by some opponents of the agreement. "VIPA will continue to control the harbor. We will own the development; they will lease it, and we will have a seat on the board."
In response to remarks Friday by WICO chief executive Edward E. Thomas about the cruise lines having shopped the project to other islands unsuccessfully before finding a taker in the Virgin Islands, [see "WICO chief: Crown Bay idea rejected elsewhere"], Stridiron said: "What's good for one island may not be good for another."
The attorney general added, "We need to do all we can to assure we grow our tourism product. An agreement with an entity owning 85 percent of the cruise ship industry can't be something you toss out the window."
Mike Daswani, owner of the St. Thomas camera and electronics retail business Royal Caribbean (which is unrelated to the cruise line), expressed the opposite view.
"The pier should be developed; there's no question about it," he said. "But it should be developed by VIPA and WICO working together. They have the expertise, and funding isn't a problem. If we give the cruise lines the agreement, they will have 50 years to get a return back from their investment, but if we develop it ourselves, the revenue will stay with us."
According to knowledgeable sources, WICO was expected to offer to build the Crown Bay facility by borrowing the money from Banco Popular.
In Daswani's view, "The cruise ships will be happy to come if we create a proper docking facility. We feel as a community that we should be controlled by our own entities. We need to support Carifest [the theme park being developed adjacent to the WICO dock] and Yacht Haven. They need to be encouraged, and not duplicated."
He added, "I'm sure we can work some incentive program to keep the ships coming here in the summer. We're still No. 1 in the Caribbean, and we are quite capable of doing that on our own. We've done it all these years, and WICO is fully satisfactory and accepted by all the cruise lines."
James Armour, owner of Armour Enterprises and another chamber board representative, said he was "intent on working within the framework of VIPA, WICO and the private sector coming to a common position to advise the governor." He said Turnbull had asked all parties to discuss their options with one another.
Leslie Milliner, a Port Authority board member and longtime owner of the L&C Milliner department store, said, "I would have favored us building the project ourselves, but we must keep in mind that while we are No. 1 in the Caribbean today, we can't afford to sit on our laurels. Cuba is opening sooner than we think. If the cruise lines have a stake here, we'll stay on their itinerary."
VIPA executive director Gordon Finch recently told a Rotary gathering that while the Virgin Islands was the No. 1 cruise ship port in the world before Hurricane Hugo, "We're down to about 13 on the list. We are losing market share because we haven't grown."
Stridiron said he isn't sure, if the agreement doesn't go through, whether there would be any change in the relationship between the territory and the cruise lines. "They will continue to see this as a premier port," he said. "My concern is the long term — for instance, if Cuba opens up, we may have a gradual decline over the years, and we'd like to avoid that as much as possible. Having a formal relationship with the cruise industry for 50 years is something we ought not to sniff at."
Daswani, who owns a branch shop in Havensight Mall as well as his main store downtown, said the proposed development would definitely hurt Main Street. "We already have vacancies on Main Street, Back Street and the waterfront," he said. "And we are just starting the renovation of Market Square."
His views reflect those expressed by the Chamber of Commerce about the effect the development would have on the local retail economy. "The idea is to generate more revenue, not slice it into three parts," he said, referring to downtown, Havensight and Crown Bay.
"At Crown Bay, we need to put a crafts market with local vendors to get more exposure to visitors — local products, art, foods, perfumes, anything local," Daswani said. "We don't need another string of jewelry stores."
Milliner, a former president of the chamber of commerce, said, "If we made a decision based on today's conditions, we'd be fooling ourselves. It's better to have 10 percent of the turkey than 100 percent of the sparrow."
Also at the meeting were Port Authority board members Wayne Callwood, Public Works commissioner, and Kent Bernier on behalf of board chair Pamela Richards, Tourism commissioner; West Indian Co. board members Rudolph Krigger, Bent Lawaetz and Arturo Watlington; and chamber of commerce board member Sebastiano Cassinelli-Paiewonsky.
Stridiron said he doesn't envy the governor the task before him. "We discussed the issues everyone had," he said. "The fact remains we are dealing with government property, and ultimately the governor would have to give his blessing. He will be weighing all the issues raised by all parties."

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