The V.I. Economic Development Authority announced that a plan submitted by Gerville Rene Larsen had been adopted as the official Christiansted Town Plan at a sparsely attended meeting at the Old Post Office in Christiansted Monday night.
The plan offers a vision of how Christiansted should be redeveloped and will be used by the EDA to guide the awarding of generous tax incentives to developers within the Christiansted economic development zone.
In the plan Larsen, an architect and resident of Christiansted, calls on the extension of the boardwalk, the development of a University of the Virgin Islands extension campus and the expansion of mixed-use buildings to help lure residents back into the depopulated historic downtown area.
During a brief presentation of his plan, Larsen said that historically, Christiansted was far more densely populated than it is today. He said the key to redeveloping the town was to concentrate on adding new homes and apartments until about 80 percent of the properties were residential. This would ensure people would be on the streets of Christiansted “24/7.”
“That is really the key to having this town come back to life,” he said.
Broadly, Larsen envisions the town’s economy being anchored by three hubs: the existing boardwalk area, Gallows Bay and the as-yet-undeveloped waterfront area west of the seaplane terminal and east of the Richmond Power Plant. The boardwalk would be extended to connect the areas.
Larsen also called for a green belt that would include the popular walking trail along the Christiansted bypass and also incorporate new trails along the town’s guts.
The plan calls for the construction of new homes that mimic the appearance of the historic vernacular wooden residences that are common within the town. These homes should be zoned as mixed use so residents could run small shops out of the front of their homes if they chose to, Larsen proposed.
Larsen envisioned a new four-star hotel and aquarium to be built in the area west of the seaplane terminal as well.
The plan also calls for significant restoration projects. Larsen proposed transforming the old barracks building on Hospital Street into a UVI extension campus that would house the V.I. Caribbean Cultural Center as well as an architecture school.
He also proposed restoring the old hospital building that abuts the bypass into a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and the homeless.
Speaking after the meeting, Nadine Marchena Kean, the director of the Enterprise Zone Commission, said the plan was not a concrete blueprint, but rather a road map to help guide the EDA as it doles out substantial tax incentives to developers.
Qualifying projects within the Christiansted economic development zone will be eligible for 90 percent reductions of the income, property and gross receipt taxes for ten years.
Marchena Kean said that projects would not need to fit exactly with the plan presented by Larsen, but should fall in line with the general ideas presented therein.
“We’re just trying to promote certain things that the community wants. So the museums and art galleries and those types of activities will be incentivized because those are the things the community wants,” she said.
Marchena Kean said that the plan would next be presented to the EDA board for final approval and then forwarded to the governor for his signature. Once the plan is approved by the governor, developers will have five years to apply for the tax incentives.
Jennifer Nugent-Hill, assistant chief executive officer of EDA, said that the authority had some funding available to help move projects within the zone forward and further grants would be sought, but a great deal of private investment would be needed.
“The truth is we do not have the financial resources in our treasury right now to say ‘go do the project and it’s financed.’ We have to find the financing to do it,” she said.
Nugent-Hill said current EDC companies would be encouraged to get involved with local development projects. She said EDA was also applying to designate the Virgin Islands an “EB-5 center,” which is a federal program that would encourage foreigners to invest in the community in exchange for a green card.
Larsen’s plan was informed by a series of public brainstorming meetings held in March during which Christiansted residents were given a chance to say how they’d like the town to be developed.
Architect William Taylor also presented a town plan to EDA. Christiansted residents were given a chance to vote on the two plans in November with Larsen emerging as the victor.
To learn more about the town plan, visit www.usvieda.org.