Gov. John deJongh Jr. announced an agreement between the V.I. government and development firms General Engineering Corporation and GlobeVest to build a new sports complex in Frederiksted at a news conference Thursday.
According to the governor, the project will cost a minimum of $50 million, half of which will be provided by the V.I. government and the other half by the developers. The governor was quick to say that the cost of the development will not be passed on to Virgin Island taxpayers.
“The financing of this project is not coming, by any means, out of our operating funds or any existing funds,” deJongh said. “It’s coming out of future dollars that we hope to receive, and that hope is based on the success of our Diageo relationship.”
Specifically, the money will come from the Communities Facilities Trust account, a fund established in Diageo’s operating agreement with the V.I. government. The agreement states that Diageo’s new distillery will deposit “three percent of the annual gross cover over receipts” into the fund, administered by the V.I. Public Finance Authority.
The funds will be used for “the development, operations, and maintenance of community and/or sports facilities or urban redevelopment projects,” the agreement states.
The 50-acre complex will be built on land currently occupied by the Paul E. Joseph stadium as well as some adjacent property.
Several designs presented at the news conference depicted the complex as having as many as 21 tennis courts, eight beach volleyball courts, a new baseball stadium, and an aquatic stadium with several pools and diving platforms. These designs are preliminary, however, and are likely to change.
DeJongh said the reason the complex concentrates so heavily on these four sports is the hope that it would draw collegiate and professional tournaments to the island.
“Our concept of sports tourism is not broad. It’s very targeted to specific groups,” he said.
Frank Yeo, a representative from the National Swimming Center Corporation who joined deJongh onstage, said the complex would be a tempting venue for NCAA swim meets.
“In aquatics, if you’re out in the snow, it’s very cold,” he said. The warm climate and vacation-feel of St. Croix would make it an alternative to swimming venues in Hawaii.
Yeo and deJongh were confident the complex would appeal to tennis and beach volleyball organizations as well.
DeJongh said, “We will have all of those [sports] located in one facility that allows us…to attract from the U.S. a type of sports tourism that puts heads in beds and at the same time leads to economic development.”
A press release issued by Government House after the announcement stated that the developers estimated the complex would host 80 sanctioned sporting events a year.
John Wessel, managing member of the General Engineering Corporation, stressed the short-term benefits the island will receive from the influx of construction jobs.
“The role that GEC will play in this is to make sure the construction means and methods that work in the Virgin Islands are used here, and to make sure that Virgin Islanders build this facility in all of its aspects,” he said, earning a round of applause from the audience.
Wessel said that the final plans for the complex will be completed over the next year with input from the community. At the same time, the current Paul E. Joseph stadium, which has been condemned, will be demolished.
“We’ll put about 50 people, Virgin Islanders, to work immediately demolishing and doing the preparation work,” he said.
Wessel added that they hoped to break ground on the new complex in early 2013 and the initial phase of construction should employ about 150 people.
The project must still be approved by the Senate, a point the governor acknowledged early in his remarks.
“The success of this project depends on our partnership with [the senators] and their willingness to approve it,” he said. “They’ve been extremely supportive.”