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Feb. 21, 2002 – A lot of people might think monthly evening jazz concerts at Buddhoe Park in Frederiksted are a great idea. The members of the West End Cruise Ship Vendors Association are not among them, it was evident at a meeting of the Senate Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Wednesday night.
There was no apparent meeting of the minds as the vendors faced off against representatives of the Frederiksted Economic Development Association at the hearing. At issue were plans by FEDA to make the Sunset Jazz Concert, a successful event of the last Crucian Christmas Festival in Frederiksted, into a monthly Friday occurrence — at the vendors plaza.
Amelia Gill, spokesperson for the more than 20 vendors in attendance, said they were asked to vacate the plaza for the January concert to allow the use of the facility by FEDA. "I am here to clarify the language of the agreement outlined in the handbook given to vendors during the Schneider administration," Gill said, citing language stating that the vendors' licenses entitle them to use the plaza any day of the year.
FEDA's president, Eunice Tranberg, told the committee that "Upon arriving at the plaza, one vendor was asked to vacate the site to allow our committee to set up for the event" on Jan. 25.
She said the Sunset Jazz Concert idea is to encourage residents and visitors alike to come out and enjoy the beauty of the town of Frederiksted. "It is not our intention to create discord between both of the associations," she said.
After 20 minutes of questioning by the committee chair, Sen. Adelbert Bryan, it was apparent that permission granted to FEDA by the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Department to utilize the plaza was at the heart of the conflict.
FEDA project director Hugh Dalton said the organization went to LCA to get permission to hold the event in the plaza. Bryan grilled Dalton about his intentions as project director in view of the fact that Dalton also is president of Harbour Night, a visitor-oriented promotion which charges some 40 vendors $50 apiece to sell at the events, held on alternate Wednesday nights when a cruise ship is in port. Bryan expressed disappointment that no Harbour Night vendors were at the hearing.
According to Dalton, "It was not our responsibility to contact the cruise ship vendors" about the concert plans. "We followed protocol and contacted Consumer Affairs," he said.
"The key to solving this impasse is Mr. Andrew Rutnik," Bryan said, referring to the LCA commissioner, whom Bryan said had been subpoenaed to attend the hearing. "This nonsense has got to stop," Bryan said upon learning that Rutnik had sent his assistant commissioner to represent him.
Bryan urged the vendors to stand their ground at the plaza until the matter is cleared up. The other committee members agreed that the conflict was not between the vendors and FEDA. "It was created by a lack of communication between Andrew Rutnik and the vendors," Sen. Vargrave Richards said, adding, "I urge you to proceed lawfully."
Vendors on St. Thomas were at loggerheads with Rutnik late in 2000 and into last year after the commissioner ordered vendors at the Drake's Seat lookout to move their operations to a downtown Charlotte Amalie site that they did not consider acceptable. The governor, senators, the Police Department and the District Court got caught up in the dispute, involving questions of permits and ownership of the overlook, but eventually the vendors were forced to cease selling at the site or face arrest. Some have sued over the matter.
The V.I. Code provides that anyone who upon, being subpoenaed, neglects or refuses to appear before the Legislature or any of its committees may be arrested on orders of the Legislature. "It is sad that we have to take this route," Sen. David Jones said, supporting the committee request for legal counsel to draft documents to arrest Rutnik for disobeying a lawful order to attend Wednesday's hearing. "A house divided cannot stand," Jones said. "Look at what is happening here. This dispute only serves to dampen the spirit of those who desire to progress."
Among those present at the hearing was Police Capt. Melbourne Adams, who was asked by Bryan to confirm the role of the Police Department efforts to vacate vendors from the site.
Tranberg said FEDA's goal was "to create a café-style atmosphere with tables, tablecloths, flowers and candles. A place where residents can meet, mingle and enjoy jazz." But, she said in a tone of frustration, "At this point, this event is over. It's just not going to work."
Jones encouraged Tranberg not to change the concert concept but to change its design so as to incorporate the cruise ship vendors.
"It's not the first time that we have been asked to vacate the premise so that other activities can be hosted," Gill said. Again quoting from the handbook, she said that vendors can be asked to vacate the premise only for government functions, not those of private organizations. And in such cases, vendors are to be given 10 days' notice.
"We just want to get some clarity on the issue," Gill said.
The Cruise Ship Vendors Association members also would like to address their right to sell alcoholic beverages, which FEDA is authorized to do, and vendor operating hours.
FEDA's plan is for the Sunset Jazz Concert to be held the last Friday of every month from 6 to 8 p.m. "We are seeking events that will increase traffic in the area," Dalton said. "I researched out every date to ensure that it did not conflict with cruise ship arrivals."
But while no ships are scheduled to be in port on Friday nights, the vendors said, they need to be able to set up their tents and displays on Fridays for the Saturday arrivals. "The vendor that was removed sets up at 2 p.m. on Friday so she can get to her workplace for midnight," Gill said. "The vendors pay for the security guard to protect our property," she added, "not the government."

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