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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Jan. 12, 2002 – A new twist was added to the University of the Virgin Islands' proposed research and technology park on St. Croix when Port Authority officials said on Friday that they would like the school to locate the project next to VIPA's proposed commerce and business park.
Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, told the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Committee at a hearing in Frederiksted that locating the developments adjacent to each other on Port Authority-owned land near Henry E. Rohlsen Airport would save both entities millions of dollars during construction.
Currently, UVI is eyeing V.I. Agriculture Department land for its project. The land sits between the Melvin Evans and Queen Mary Highways in the Middle Works and Bethlehem areas. About 10 farmers currently lease land in the area from the Agriculture Department.
The research and technology park is envisioned to be a Silicon Valley-type community on St. Croix where off-island high-tech businesses would hire up to 200 locals and improve the overall economy of the territory. A main attraction of the park would be the proximity of two high-speed fiber-optic communication links — of Global Crossing and AT&T — that run through the island. Another would be tax breaks.
At the same time UVI has been developing its project, the Port Authority has been working on a federally funded economic development plan for St. Croix. The economic study was undertaken to identify the island's assets, develop a marketing and promotional plan to attract high-tech industries, create more jobs, diversify the economy and develop 100 acres of land by the airport into a business park. The Port Authority has hired the DeJongh Group, a St. Thomas-based architectural firm, to begin design and permitting work on the business park.
At Friday's hearing, Finch said that developing the parks adjacent to each other would mean huge savings. Individually, each park would need two to three megawatts of emergency back-up electrical power, he said, and such a system would cost up to $2 million. "That's a huge cost," Finch said. "Because of adjacency, there is a huge savings there."
The Port Authority's offer throws a wrinkle into UVI's proposal in that the school wants legislation for its park approved by the end of January. Finch's overture caught UVI President Orville Kean by surprise.
Kean said repeatedly during the meeting that the UVI proposal needs to be moved quickly. He said he isn't opposed to the Port Authority idea but would have to take the offer to the UVI Board of Trustees for approval. Finch would have to do the same with the Port Authority board.
Kean said that whatever the Port Authority suggests, the legislation still needs to be moved forward. "We're prepared to meet with Mr. Finch and his colleagues as soon as possible," he said. "We are very, very willing to collaborate."
Finch said if the two developments are built separately, "the Port Authority and UVI will be competitors." And in that case, he said, the Port Authority would request the same type of tax breaks to offer its tenants that UVI is seeking for its park. "To solve that, we have to have the adjacency," he said.
The land owned by the Port Authority was originally given by the federal government for airport purposes. Finch said that in order to transfer approximately 80 acres to UVI, the Federal Aviation Administration must be lobbied. The Port Authority can sell the land at fair market value, he said, but a straight transfer of the deed is preferable, particularly since UVI would rather own, rather than lease, the land the technology park is built on.
The committee chair, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, repeated concerns he has expressed previously that UVI officials plan to base the technology park on St. Thomas rather than St. Croix. That appeared to frustrate Kean, who repeatedly said the goal was to enhance the entire economy of the territory with a start on St. Croix.
"We have no agenda here," Kean said. "The position of the Board of Trustees is there will be a large park on St. Croix."

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