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UVI Defends Tech Park Progress, Spending

Aug. 3, 2007 — A day after a highly critical article in the Daily News, a University of the Virgin Islands official on Friday defended the value and progress of the university's Research and Technology Park before the Senate Finance Committee in Frederiksted.
“In fact, although we have been allocated almost $13 million by the Virgin Islands government, we have not spent $13 million,” RTPark Executive Director David Zumwalt told senators. “For example, $7 million of that amount is a capital development grant managed by the Public Finance Authority that only became available to us earlier this year.”
The RTPark is an economic development initiative begun by the university that officials hope will ultimately provide jobs and tax revenue. It will offer businesses buildings built with their needs in mind, very substantial tax benefits through the Economic Development Commission and access to the resources of the UVI.
The park has received approximately $6 million in legislative appropriations for operating expenses to date, approximately $1 million of which remains unspent. An additional $7 million for capital expenses such as the construction of the park was recently disbursed by the PFA.
Zumwalt said $2.6 million of that capital funding had been spent, and the remainder would nearly complete the job. He said they are hoping to receive federal loans of $4.7 million and a grant of $1.5 million this year as well. The RTPark is not requesting any funds from the Legislature this budget cycle.
Zumwalt ticked off a list of what he characterized as “clarification” of the facts presented in the critical article, ranging from the normal time frame and cost of such a project to the presence of a paying client at the RTPark.
“To put our progress to date in perspective; it generally takes up to ten years to develop and launch a university research park,” Zumwalt said. “Judged by this standard, I would say we are well on our way."
As a sign of progress, Zumwalt highlighted the RTPark’s recent deal with Global Crossing to provide services inside the company’s facilities in Frederiksted.
The Global Crossing cable carries the bulk of all communications in and out of the Virgin Islands. According to the company, 70 percent of Latin American overseas phone traffic flies over that cable.
Senators varied in their support for the technology park.
“Businesses, they don’t really need the tech park to do business with Global Crossing, do they?” Sen. James Weber III asked Zumwalt.
“I’ll acknowledge that, yes,” Zumwalt said.
Sen. Liston Davis was less critical.
“I support the tech park,” Davis said. “I think it is a dream that can be fulfilled. … This is a sophisticated facility and it takes time.”
Weber and other senators were concerned about difficulty in getting detailed information about how some of the monies disbursed to the RTPark were spent.
“I see here that $2.1 million was spent on consulting,” Weber said. “Who is getting the money and what are we getting for it?” Zumwalt listed several small consulting contracts.
“We are not getting near to the $2.1 million here. What are the big ones?” Zumwalt said he was barred from speaking about some of the contracts because of confidentiality agreements with the companies.
“So how much is spent from public funds is secret?” Weber asked.
UVI President Laverne Ragster, a member of the RTPark Board of Directors, interjected that supporting documents would be made available.
Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson noted that as elected representatives, senators were responsible for public funding. "We want that information, if not to the public, then to the committee chair,” Nelson said.
UVI has set aside 10 acres on their St. Croix campus for the park’s buildings and infrastructure. Plans for the technology park began in 2001 and in 2002 the Legislature passed a charter and provided initial funding.
Zumwalt said construction has begun on the park, with Aramark Corporation contracted to oversee it. He said they expect the facility at the St. Croix campus of UVI to be complete in the spring of 2009.
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