A bill to authorize the local government to make lease payments should hotel developers with leases fail to do so will jump start St. Croix’s hotel development, senators asserted Monday when they met at the Legislature building on St. Croix. The government will guarantee up to $20 million.
All six senators at the meeting of the Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning meeting voted yes.
Violet Anne Golden, who chairs the territory’s Casino Control Commission, said it would take something extraordinary for the government to have to make payments.
“There has to be triggers for guarantees to go into place,” she said.
Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly likened it to co-sponsorship of a loan.
“The government doesn’t have to put up a penny,” the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen, added.
The bill is not limited to hotels on St. Croix but the senators agreed that is where the need is.
“I’m tired of waiting while my people are going hungry,” Hansen said.
Roy Rogers, the local representative for Golden Gaming, which plans a casino hotel on St. Croix, said the territory was very good at saving turtles, lizards and fish. “But we’re not very good at saving people,” he said.
Hansen said the first hotel that takes advantage of this bill would provide 1,500 construction jobs.
She and other senators said the bill would turn around the St. Croix economy.
Hansen and other senators said St. Croix’s shortage of hotel rooms and lack of a convention center prevent the island from attracting conventions.
During his testimony on the bill, Golden Gaming Chief Executive Officer Paul Golden said the passage of the bill will enable him to finalize his $235 million to $240 million financing package so he can start construction on his casino resort on St. Croix.
He said it’s been in the works since 2000.
“Our goal is to be open for the centennial anniversary in 2017,” Paul Golden said, referring to the 100th anniversary of the transfer of the Virgin Islands from Denmark to the United States.
At issue for several senators was what they viewed as lack of preparedness by V.I. Economic Development Authority representative Frederick Handleman, a special assistant to Director Percival Clouden.
“We are researching to see how it works with the hotel development act,” Handleman said.
He said the agency didn’t do the work earlier because it often takes months and sometimes years before bills get an airing. He said bills often change in that time. He also said the agency has to prioritize its resources.
“They had sufficient time to study. There should be no study because St. Croix is hurting,” Hansen said.
Anne Golden said three separate developers recently visited her office to discuss building casino hotels. She said these are ones with new projects.
In addition to Sanes and O’Reilly, committee members Sen. Clifford Graham, Sen. Myron Jackson, Sen. Diane Capehart and Sen. Janette Millin-Young, who chaired the meeting, were present. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone was absent.