Correction: See Editor’s Note Below.
Without debate, the Senate amended unrelated legislation Friday to give the V.I. Casino Control Commission power to waive "any requirement of this section for a hotel in the enterprise zones" of Frederiksted or Christiansted that is building a casino.
The law proposed by Sen. Kenneth Gittens and others appears to apply only to the Caravelle Hotel for now. While the change creates a new statutory authority to grant license waivers, according to Gittens, it has the effect of limiting the ability of the Casino Control Commission to grant them, by putting conditions on them.
On Feb. 5, the V.I. Casino Control Commission approved a casino-operating license for the Caravelle Hotel, the second V.I. casino license ever issued. Divi Carina Bay Casino has the other license and objects to the project.
The class four license requires 75 rooms; a banquet room for 400 people, a 2,000 square-foot casino; and a 60 percent reinvestment of the net cash flow in 10 years. So far, fewer than half of the required 75 rooms have been remodeled or completed. The commission approved the gaming license with the stipulation that the remaining rooms be built within 30 months. (See Related Links below)
Gittens’ amendment would allow the V.I. Casino Control Commission to waive the requirements for enterprise zone casino licenses.
Gittens said the goal of the measure was to ensure prompt progress on the casino. His amendment also requires the hotel to post a performance bond and that all work be completed within 18 months after the Feb. 5 date the hotel received its casino license.
It was attached as an unrelated amendment to a bill sponsored by Sen. Sammuel Sanes aiming to have Public Works put steel roofs and lighting over the public basketball courts in Frederiksted’s Estate Profit and in Estate Grove, in the center of St. Croix.
The main bill appropriates $467,660 from bond proceeds still remaining from $35 million in new bond debt for energy conservation projects in 23 Education Department facilities and both hospitals, which are expected to ultimately save millions of dollars over time. (See Related Links below)
During committee hearings, Public Works Commissioner Gustav James said each roof would cost about $350,000, including a concrete foundation and new lighting, and the new funding, combined with some existing funding, should make it possible to cover the two courts. The funding would not pay for resurfacing the courts, he said.
Senators also attached an amendment from Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly, appropriating $80,000 from the St. Croix Capital Improvement Fund to help buy some mammography imaging system for Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital. The system will work alongside a recently purchased mammography machine.
– from Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, clarifying a previous measure re-appropriating $100,000 in unspent capital bond funding to instead help finish the Fort Christian Museum restoration project;
– from several senators, moving $300,000 from a pharmaceutical assistance fund to help support the Dial A Ride program for seniors in both the St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John districts;
– from Sen. Justin Harrigan to have the Legislature give Leona Wheatley a plaque of the act naming the
amphitheater at E. Benjamin Oliver Elementary School in her honor.
The bill was approved with 14 senators voting in favor. Sen. Marvin Blyden absent.
Editor’s Note: According to Gittens, the casino amendment will limit casino license waivers, unlike unlimited waivers that can be granted now. As noted in the story, Gittens’ amendment limits the time frame of such waivers and requires a performance bond. The amendment creates a power to grant waivers that is not specified by statute now. However, Gittens’ office has contacted the Source to object to the amendment being described as a new power to grant waivers, saying that the amendment, attached to an unrelated bill without debate or hearings, tightens the requirements for waivers by placing conditions on the powers of the Casino Control Commission to grant such waivers.