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VIPA Board Discusses St. Croix Aviation Options

July 21, 2004 – The St. Thomas marine facilities are the only Port Authority division making money, according to a financial report discussed Wednesday at the monthly VIPA board meeting, held at the Westin Resort on St. John.
Figures show that the Port Authority's marine facilities had a profit of $6.3 million between the start of the 2004 fiscal year last Oct. 1 and May 31. However, the marine terminal on St. Croix lost $2.2 million.
St. Croix aviation facilities lost $3.8 million, and St. Thomas aviation facilities lost $594,000.
"Aviation on St. Croix is really hemorrhaging," Attorney General and board member Iver Stridiron, who chaired the meeting, stated.
This prompted board member Leslie Milliner to say that the territory's Tourism Advertising Revolving Fund should subsidize VIPA's aviation operations on St. Croix.
A discussion of St. Croix's flagging tourism industry followed. Stridiron noted that airline executive have said there is a lack of passenger demand for St. Croix and a lack of hotel rooms on the island.
"We have to create the demand," board member James Rodgers said, calling for the Port Authority and the Tourism Department to work together on the matter.
Stridiron said that the private sector has to "go all out" to attract business to St. Croix.
Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards, who by virtue of that office chairs the VIPA board, was not at the meeting.
VIPA's assistant executive director, David Mapp, said the Port Authority is pursuing airlines that fly from Europe. They can't take off from St. Thomas because the runway isn't long enough for large transatlantic planes, he said, but St. Croix's longer runway could accommodate them. Passengers from Europe wanting to travel to St. Thomas or the British Virgin Islands could connect out of St. Croix via a smaller plane.
The Port Authority also is courting companies that transport freight by air. Darlan Brin, VIPA executive director, said he hopes the fact that the nearby San Juan airport is at maximum freight capacity will open the door for St. Croix.
Additionally, the Port Authority is looking to private jets to help take up the slack resulting from the paucity of major airlines currently landing on St. Croix. VIPA has agreed to lease two acres at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport to James River Aviation, an Economic Development Program beneficiary, so it can build a hangar for its private aircraft. The company received a 10-year lease with an option to renew for five years; the space is being leased at 50 cents a square foot.
The Port Authority's property manager, Kenn Hobson, said that similar space on St. Thomas would go for $1 a square foot, but St. Croix's poor economic condition warrants lower rates.
VIPA board members attending the meeting in addition to Stridiron, Rodgers, and Milliner were Robert O'Connor Jr., Hector Peguero, Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood, and Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett.

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