Feb. 9, 2004 – The long-awaited demolition of the derelict Yacht Haven Hotel buildings, now scheduled for mid-March, will begin not with a boom, but with a teaspoon.
Speaking over the weekend, Elie Finegold, IN-USVI executive vice president, said the demolition of the public eyesore will be "nothing dramatic. I usually say 'with a spoon.'"
Finegold did say, however, the occasion of the first "spoonful" will be cause for celebration. The demolition process will take about four to five months, he said, and will be closely monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "No dynamite will be used," he said. "We will be essentially taking it down piecemeal. It is a kind of painstaking way to do this; we have strict environmental concerns."
One concern is friable asbestos, which is dangerous when airborne. Any that is found in the old buildings will go directly "into containers which are shipped to a facility for hazardous materials in Jacksonville, Fla.," Finegold said.
"Everyone in the V.I. wants this thing to come down — there will be people all over the territory who will be cheering," he said. And Helen Gjessing, president of the Save Long Bay Coalition, agreed.
Although reluctant to detail plans for the celebration, Finegold said that "everyone will want to take one last look at the old Yacht Haven and say goodbye!" He added: "Reclaiming this part of the harbor — that's worth a celebration."
The coalition and IN-USVI settled their differences out of court last November after nearly six months of battling over IN-USVI's Coastal Zone Management permit for the redevelopment. IN-USVI owns the former Yacht Haven property; it also has a 90-year lease on some seven and a half acres of adjacent filled land owned by The West Indian Co. and on submerged lands in Long Bay that are public property.
The firm intends to rebuild the Yacht Haven facilities from the ground up while also developing the filled land as commercial space. (See "IN-USVI says deal reached with Long Bay group".)
The St. Thomas CZM Committee reviewed changes made in the project design as part of the corporation's agreement with the coalition late in January, clearing any last hurdle for the demolition process.
Finegold and Gjessing discussed the changes, some of which Finegold described as what amounts to a "shared vision." "There are special items, part of the settlement agreement, inspired by our mutual design, a slew of changes," he said. Gjessing expressed pleasure that the project will now have "more green space, additional water frontage." One of the Long Bay group's concerns was for more public access to the water.
Both were eager to talk about improvements planned for neighboring Paul M. Pearson Gardens and the Lucinda Millin Home for the Aged. IN-USVI expects to put about $300,000 toward the surrounding properties.
"We re going to take the trees from Yacht Haven and replant them," Finegold said. "It will be very slow. We are clearing the land tree by tree, not bulldozing, and each tree will be replanted at each facility."
Additionally, he said, "We have pledged to improve the recreation areas in the entire neighborhood, including tennis courts and landscaped public areas.
Finegold said he admires the Paul M. Pearson housing community and that "it will be the touchstone for improving the entire neighborhood." He said that when he first looked at the property, "I didn't believe it was a public project. It is so well maintained. I've had people ask me if it was condos."
Another part of the agreement is a downtown historic revitalization project. IN-USVI has agreed to contribute $125,000 in matching funds if the downtown merchants can come up with their share. Jim Armour, president of Armour Enterprises, will work with the coalition to raise the money. Finegold said he hopes to see the waterfront improved in that effort, too. The Port Authority approved plans for renovation of the waterfront several years ago, but work has yet to get under way.
Other changes agreed upon by IN-USVI and the coalition include retail restrictions, which Gjessing said are to ensure that the retail areas do not compete with downtown businesses.
Finegold said he hopes the Territorial Court will be receptive to improvements on the government land where the Rising Stars Youth Steel Orchestra pan yard is located. IN-USVI owns the surrounding land and it wants the property to blend in, he said.
The demolition and construction work will provide about 500 jobs, Finegold said, most of them local. Manhattan Construction, the main contractor, will hire local subcontractors.
Finegold couldn't contain his enthusiasm for the redevelopment plans. Stepping out of the corporation's elegant but austere offices in Port of $ale Mall, he spread his arms westward. "Look at this now," he said, indicating the cyclone fencing around the beginning of the dilapidated buildings. "Where you see that wooden building over there, you will see a fountain. Where you see all this concrete, you will see an esplanade with green, green all over — flowers, trees, walkways."
He remarked on the natural beauty of the Charlotte Amalie harbor. "Now when people see the harbor, residents or tourist, they will see something beautiful," he said. The project includes a 160-slip marina with a yacht club situated at the end of the dock which once housed the Bridge restaurant, affectionately known in the boating community as the Bilge.
The new structure "will be a two-story restaurant," Finegold said. "It will be iconic, the first thing you see when you enter the harbor."
The other "icon" will be the fountain at the base of the swimming pool facing the harbor. Situated in the same area will be a public amphitheater, one of the first things the developers worked on with the Housing, Parks and Recreation Department.
Gjessing was almost as enthusiastic as Finegold, clearly happy to see elements that the coalition had recommended integrated into the plans. "The esplanade will be so much greener, less of a massive feeling," she said. Finegold said the walkways will have kiosks with local vendors selling arts and crafts, "and they will be lockable at night, so they won't have to carry things to them."
In the image accompanying this story, the letters FB designate restaurant (food and beverage) facilities; R refers to retail establishments.
The first phase of the project, pegged overall at more than $150 million, is expected to take two years, Finegold said. It will include all structures but a six-story, 70-room hotel and a 25,000-square-foot convention center.
The design of the new marina will reflect a strict historic perspective, planners have said. "This is not going to be a Disneyland project," one project manager said.
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