Throughout the Caribbean, across the nation and around the world, the “Revitalization Buzz” is very much in the news and in people’s minds and hearts. In stateside cities from Pittsfield, Massachusetts to Portland, Oregon, and internationally from Beijing to Budapest, and regionally in adjacent islands, efforts to rejuvenate city centers have produced stellar results. In our own Virgin Islands we have seen successful, ongoing revitalization projects of Our Town Frederiksted and The St. Croix Foundation create remarkable results in a short period of time.
For thousands of years, town centers have been the focal point of life for retail, other businesses, government, services, and, of course, housing. With the advent of modern transportation, outlying areas, suburbs, became more desirable places to live and the businesses that support these populations moved along with them, often leaving the former downtown hub to fall into disuse, and passed over for modern infrastructure improvements.
On St. Thomas there’s an odd twist to the situation. Since the end of WW II, the interior parts of the island have become more accessible. True to form, areas that once supported only a small grocery store or a rum shack have become thriving small communities attracting retail and service businesses to serve the needs of the residents. But at the same time our island became a mecca of tourism, creating a major retail hub for luxury goods, and the driving force of our economy, in what was once the heart of the community. Areas behind the retail area fell into disrepair as residents and businesses sought more convenient, less expensive living options.
Yet, our Downtown, from Frenchtown, along the Harbor to Havensight and back to the foothills, is still the most densely populated area of the island. The deterioration of the infrastructure in the three quarters of Charlotte Amalie and its immediate surroundings has made life difficult for those who must now travel for shopping, government offices, doctors, services and other basic needs. Our wonderful civic buildings, town houses and modest family homes are, for the most part, in sad shape and maintaining them has become an expense that is out of the realm of ordinary citizens. Whether you own or rent property in the Downtown Area, or just want to admire the Caribbean charm of a bygone era, as so many of our tourists do, revitalizing our downtown is a major concern. Almost everyone agrees this is a needed and valuable endeavor.
Revitalization involves more than the physical aspects of our town. It is also achieved through celebrations of our history, our culture, our foods, our businesses, and our entertainment. Revitalization enables the town and the Territory to grow.
Downtown Revitalization, Inc. (DRI) seeks to act as the umbrella organization under which multiple organizations, property owners, businesses, individuals and religious institutions can work together to create a town that can, once again, become a living and economically vibrant entity. A place with varied businesses serving the residents of the town, and provide a safe environment to raise a family, experience social and cultural activities, and have areas for healthy recreational choices. In short, a town with a 24/7 life. This effort is geared to residents first –it will follow that it helps our tourism product and provides a better life for all.
Since 2010, DRI has facilitated numerous meetings between the public and private sectors and residents. Discussion points have been public projects and operations, as well as concerns within the Downtown community such as Homelessness, Public Safety, Neighborhood Revitalization, and the Main Street renovation project. These meetings have opened avenues of communication that did not exist before.
How do you participate? First, come to the Annual Meeting and join or renew your membership in DRI. Membership is based on minimum levels of contribution; but contribute as much as you can. Organizations (civic, business and neighborhood) and churches/synagogue/mosques are encouraged to participate as a group. Bring a banner for your section and sit together. Organization numbers will be recognized.
A feature of the meeting will be an exhibit by the students of the School of Visual Arts and Careers [SVAC]. This after-school program for talented young people is housed in the I. LEVIN Building on Store Tvaer Gade. The SVAC studio and art gallery is an example of how the creative use of a downtown commercial location can attract people to the area.
DRI will also give recognition to a group of young people from the Reformed Church who have undertaken a clean-up project of the downtown area surrounding their historic church on Nye Gade.
Accomplishments and initiatives will be presented on topics such as the street address numbering project, public and private parking options, an update on plans for harbor transportation and an update on Legislation concerning the revitalization of downtown Charlotte Amalie.
Revitalization efforts require engagement and participation of all residents of the island: you cannot stand on the sidelines and talk about revitalization. It is not an armchair activity. You have to participate.
DRI needs more members to join CORE Group Committees; to help organize forums on topics of community concern; to help solicit, implement and monitor public and private grants.
Make plans to attend the annual meeting of the Downtown Revitalization, Inc, Saturday, April 13, 2013 from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Lockhart Elementary School Auditorium.
David Bornn, St. Thomas
Editor’s note: David Bornn is an attorney and the president of Downtown Revitalization Inc.