Downtown Revitalization, Inc. hosted a public forum on its Draft Working Plan, focused on "Enhancing the Main Street Experience" Thursday night.
DRI President David Bornn led the meeting, held at Charlotte Amalie’s Grand Hotel, to present the draft, which focused on three key proposed action points: security, events and entertainment, as well as transportation and parking.
Bornn prefaced the Working Plan by emphasizing that both DRI and the plan are intended to support the continued growth and survival of Charlotte Amalie.
Bornn defined the area to be affected by the plan as beginning in Frenchtown and stretching to Havensight Mall, from the waterfront to Back Street. He also reminded community members that DRI and the forum are both "separate from the conversations and forums held on the government capital improvement projects related to the Main Street enhancement, the waterfront, and the other projects."
DRI is working to stimulate private sector discussion through the plan, he said.
The draft’s security plan outlines an overall vision, as well as specific goals and outcomes. One of the key parts of the security proposal includes hiring a private security team to manage live streaming cameras – another addition to downtown’s safety called for in the draft. Under the plan, this team would liaise with the Virgin Islands Police Department, but would serve to "supplement VIPD," according to Bornn.
The detailed Security section of the draft includes calls for defined procedures for dealing with VIPs, personal and vehicle searches, reporting major and minor incidents, and suspicious packages or bomb threats. It also highlights the importance of creating a safe environment conducive to vibrant entertainment and shopping experiences, without undermining "the community’s desire to produce a work environment and social events that are enjoyable, well attended, and profitable to all merchants and patrons."
Charlie Irons, the director of operations at Yacht Haven Grande, gave perspective on the plan’s proposal for better security following its presentation. He supported the implementation of security cameras, citing YHG’s own use of security cameras on the property. Irons said cameras allow for security personnel to track individuals, and when an incident happens, "We need to be able to react to [these] things quicker."
Irons also echoed DVI’s and Bornn’s mantra that downtown should be a safe place for locals, as well as tourists.
"I want to be able to take my family downtown – we all do – but we all have to participate."
The working plan also included a proposed DRI Communications Team whose responsibility would be to create a "comprehensive, strategic plan for merchant and public buy-in in order to implement the mission and vision of DRI."
Attorney Greg Ferguson gave an overview of the Business Improvement District (BID) Outline, focusing on the type of legal entity necessary to run the BID Zone Association. The outline includes three proposed business structures, but also calls for a feasibility study, the formation of a committee to run BID Zone, drafting a statement of needs, and discussion about the management of BID Zone.
In response to one attendee’s question about funding, Ferguson said that in his opinion, the most effective revitalization projects include public-private partnerships. He went on to state that ideally, the local government would pass legislation to support the project both legally and fiscally.
Funding was a major topic of interest at the forum. Betty Mahoney, the executive director of V.I. Council of the Arts, shared some of her research on grant funds to which the revitalization project might have access. She expressed caution, as the territory may not be eligible for some of the funds, but said she is optimistic about Bloomberg Philanthropies’ new public art initiative. Mahoney said if the territory is eligible, the project also fits into the guidelines for the National Endowment for the Arts’ "Our Town" grants.
The forum also discussed the "Events Experience Proposal." In addition to highlighting points of interest on St. Thomas, the draft proposed four specific weekly events: Steel Pan on the Waterfront at Twilight, Jazz on the Hill, Movie on the Green, and a Treasure Hunt. These events would take place on the waterfront, on Government Hill, on the lawn by Fort Christian, and throughout the Main Street and downtown areas, respectively.
In addition, the plan suggests cultural additions to the zone, including Calypso and Quadrille demonstrations, drummers, and troubadours. The Events proposal offered mocko jumbies dancing and posing for photos as an attraction, as well.
A discussion of proposed transportation and parking options for the downtown area also tied into the plan overall. The draft suggests shuttle services, reduced taxi fares during designated times, and cooperation with VITRAN would all help to support an influx of people to the currently congested downtown area.
Bornn reminded all present Thursday that downtown belongs to the community, and that the proposal is only a draft, ready for modification and debate.
"Focus on what we want done – what you want, all, some, none," he said.
Well over 70 people attended the forum, including senators-elect, senators, attorneys, business owners, homeowners, VIPD and staff members of government agencies and departments.
More information on DRI is available online here. The draft working plan can also be downloaded and read in its entirety by clicking here , and the business entity structure to manage the bid zone can be viewed by clicking here.