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Meeting Airs Challenges of Market Square

Feb. 15, 2006 – Parking shortages, vagrants, displacement of farmers and fisherman, noise pollution and bathroom facilities – or lack thereof – are the challenges several government agencies face as they begin to rebuild the Sanderilla Thomas Bungalow and reconstruct Rothschild Francis "Market" Square.
And no one at a meeting Wednesday night was pretending it was going to be easy to meet these challenges.
Lawrence Lewis, commissioner of Agriculture, set the tone from the start by saying, "This will involve some inconvenience." The inconveniences include changes to the traffic patterns in the area during construction.
The theme carried through the night at the Christ Church Methodist main chapel in Market Square, where 100 people gathered to hear about the plans for the area to ask questions and to voice their concerns.
Lewis, whose department is in charge of the bungalow because it has been designated specifically for the sale of vegetables, was honest about the fact that the fishermen who also sell their catch in the square will eventually be moved out of the area permanently.
"Long story short, Lewis said, "we need to find a good place for the fishermen."
But he also said the fishermen were going to have to learn to clean up after themselves. Complaints of fish odors in the area left behind after the fishermen are done selling reverberated throughout the meeting.
George Phillips, acting commissioner of Public Works, jumped in on the self-responsibility theme, saying that once the area was revitalized residents were going to have to help themselves by bringing peer pressure to bear on those committing vandalism and other destruction in the area.
Iver Stridiron, attorney for the V.I. Waste Management Authority, piggybacked on the destruction theme, asking if there wasn't some way the area around the bungalow could be cordoned off to prevent it from being used as a bathroom and for illegal activities.
Steve Lammens, owner of Custom Builders, the contractors hired to rebuild the bungalow, said as it was an historic project, grill work or other security devises were not part of the plans.
Stridiron, whose wife owns a store in the area, was also vocal about the number of bars and strip clubs in the area.
Priscilla Stridiron said, "Every time you turn around there's another bar going into the area."
"If the government is prepared to spend millions of dollars in the area, why does the government keep licensing bars?" she asked.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, who attended the meeting, discussed the area's historical significance.
"The area has its own identity," he said. "It's not part of Down Street or Savan," areas bordering the square on the western end of Charlotte Amalie.
Turnbull expressed the desire to see much of the work done before he leaves office – about a year from now. He and others remarked that getting the restoration project off the ground had taken a long time.
Priscilla Stridiron said plans for the restoration have been on the boards since 1993.
The bungalow was knocked down in April 2003 when a truck caught the corner of the roof while traversing the area.
The area is a designated historical district, Turnbull pointed out. "You can't just rebuild it any old way."
Lammens was direct and to the point in addressing the inconveniences that will accompany the project. "We're going to put a construction fence around the area that will change traffic patterns."
He said the east side of the bungalow will be completely closed to traffic. The west side will be one lane with no parking. He said the construction was expected to take about six months.
The traffic and parking changes will take place in the next couple of days, according to James O'Bryan, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator.
The timing is unfortunate, Senate President Lorraine L. Berry pointed out. The Frenchtown fishermen are being displaced almost simultaneously, as refurbishing work begins this month on the Gustave Quetel Fishing Center. Those renovations are also expected to take about six months. (See "Fishermen, Restaurant Owners Still Concerned About Center's Reconstruction".) Meanwhile, O'Bryan, who conducted the meeting, laid out several plans being considered to accommodate the farmers and fishermen and address the parking issues. He entertained several ideas from the people in attendance.
One plan has four spaces set aside for farmers in front of the George Building and the Salvation Army on the north side of Kronprindsens Gade. "And if there's not enough room we will move some across the street," he said.
Fisherman and farmer David Berry said he wanted to be allowed to sell fish in the Fort Christian parking lot on Saturdays.
Phillips said that was possible. He told Berry to put his request in writing. But he also said the fishermen would be required to clean up after themselves there, too.
As for parking, one solution is being address by a private group – Charlotte Amalie Revitalization Effort – which has talked about building a three- or four-story parking garage at the site of the old Lucy's Supermarket – not far from the square.
Chaneel Daniels of Yssis Group, the designers of the Market Square renovation project, was also on hand, complete with renderings to answer questions about the larger, long-term project of revitalizing the entire area around the bungalow.
Daniels touched on the historical theme too, talking about how as a child she used to walk from Altona with her mother into Market Square to shop.
Among the issues addressed by the Yssis plans are trash receptacles, adequate lighting and general beautification of the area.
Eventually the entire area around the bungalow will be blocked to vehicular traffic, Daniels said. Mahogany trees, plantings and historical light posts – with modern security lighting and hanging baskets – will all grace the area if Daniels' plans are completed. She said bids are nearly ready to go out on that project.
As the meeting closed many issues remained in the air: deliveries to stores in the area, parking for the immediate future, especially for the churches in the area, where the farmers would sell their produce, and what was to be done about the noise and other problems brought on by the proliferation of nightclubs in the historical district.
But there was also a distinct lack of acrimony at the end of the two-hour meeting, so often seen in such meetings. Individuals involved on both the government and private sector sides were left with a sense that solutions would be found.
"At the end of the day, we will be very, very proud," Turnbull said.
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