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Port Authority and University Considering Land Swap

March 30, 2005 – The V.I. Port Authority will soon begin negotiations with the University of the Virgin Islands to swap two pieces of property near the Cyril E. King airport on St. Thomas.
"There is a possibility that we could enter into a land exchange," Darlan Brin, VIPA executive director, told the governing board Wednesday.
Brin informed the board that UVI President LaVerne E. Ragster had written the authority expressing the university's interest in property owned by VIPA located at the southeast corner of UVI – the former site of Merchant's Market Inc.
"The property is now unoccupied," Brin said, adding the site has been vacant for over a year since Merchant's Market relocated its business to a Smith Bay facility in 2003.
The authority is considering exchanging the property for the southeastern end of UVI's recreational field adjacent to the airport.
Brin said VIPA's Property Committee has already informed Ragster the authority would negotiate for some sort of land swap or lease exchange.
"We do have a plan for it," Brin said of the lower end of the recreational field, where students and others in the community often play soccer.
Brin said the area would be used for airport expansion.
"We do have to discuss it with [UVI] to see if they will be willing to give up a portion of the site," Brin said.
If UVI agrees to the swap, the matter has to be approved by the Legislature and then the Federal Aviation Administration, Brin said.
Brin said VIPA and UVI have exchanged property in the past and he did not foresee any problems if the university agreed to this exchange.
VIPA currently owns all the land adjacent to King airport towards UVI with boundaries at parcel No. 66 Bournefield – the former Merchant's Market site. This includes, the land leased by the three hotels alongside the airport.
Brin said the federal government had deeded the property to VIPA and allows it to generate revenues from these properties for the authority's aviation division.
In giving the financial report for the aviation division, Judith James, director of administration and finance, said Bournefield and non-aeronautical revenues have decreased by 69.16 percent. James said this is mainly because VIPA is no longer realizing revenues from Merchant's Market. Despite this, aviation revenues have increased year-to-date for VIPA by 4.5 percent or $197,000 when compared to the same period last fiscal year. VIPA's fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Marine revenues have also increased by 5.28 percent or $245,000 year-to-date from the previous period last fiscal year. However, due to increased costs of salaries, utilities and homeland security issues, VIPA has a total operating loss of $1.1 million compared to $490,000 loss last fiscal year.
In other action, the VIPA board on Wednesday voted to approve a contract for Roy Construction to provide air conditioning, electrical and interior improvements to the Crown Bay facility. The contract is in the amount of $1.65 million.
The board also discussed other projects online, including the Red Hook Terminal. Brin said although the temporary parking lot adjacent to the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School is not complete, work on the project has been going on.
"It's not impeding construction," Brin said of the temporary parking lot. He added work has already begun on the installation of piles for the barge ramp.
Brin said one of the holdups for the temporary parking lot is the installation of poles for lighting. He said he had contacted the Water and Power Authority about the poles and Alberto Bruno-Vega, WAPA's executive director, had assured him that would be taken care of last week, but it is still not done.
"We need them to put up the poles," Brin said.
Dale Gregory, VIPA director of engineering, said despite this the project is "moving along as scheduled."
VIPA board chairman Robert O'Connor disagreed, however.
"It looks the same way to me whenever I pass there," O'Connor said.
Brin could not give a date for the completion of the Red Hook temporary parking lot.
Another project of the Port Authority being held up is the dredging of the Ann Abramson Pier in St. Croix. Brin said the St. Croix Coastal Zoning Management Commission would meet next Thursday to vote on the dredging. Environmental groups on the island are opposed to the project.
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