The Virgin Islands Government is demolishing some of the older structures at the territory’s racetracks in preparation for construction, according to Government House.
VIGL, the slot machine company the V.I. government gave the franchise for running the two tracks, is now preparing to present its plans to the Coastal Zone Management Commission, Jason Williams, VIGL’s general manager for horse racing operations. said in the same statement. He said CZM hearings are set for next week on both St. Thomas and St. Croix.
An interim lease agreement was signed with VIGL earlier this year in the hope that races could commence this summer. But according to Williams they have been delayed due to some logistical issues, including the need to remove damaged reviewing stands.
“We hope to present renditions of what the completed projects will look like at the CZM hearings,” he said.
The franchise agreement, entered in December 2016, requires VIGL to make $27 million in investments in the tracks and enter a performance bond for $25 million. The territory changed its laws to allow slot machines at the St. Thomas track and gave VIGL the right to open slot machine parlors at the St. Thomas track and take over the parlor at the St. Croix track. The lease and franchise call for VIGL to make a wide array of renovations and a lot of new construction. It specifies VIGL is responsible for all repairs and renovations and responsible for getting insurance.
“According to information we received, the government filed a claim with FEMA for damages at the facilities after the storms. FEMA assessed the damages and ultimately provided funding for the projects,” Williams said when asked why the government is demolishing the grandstands.
Meanwhile, as the demolition continues and plans for upgrades move forward, there is no horse racing at either track.
“There are too many variables in play to give a timeframe on when racing will resume. However, VIGL has begin the process of registering horses and horsemen and making repairs in anticipation of reopening for live racing,” Williams said.
After the Legislature approved VIGL’s franchise and lease, an analysis piece in the Source concluded there was some risk of delay to the plan because designs and permits can sometimes take a long time. But VIGL Vice President Lance Griffith said at the time that he expected things to get going quickly.
“We have 30 days to present the project outline to the governor,” Griffith said. Once it’s presented there are 15 days for the government to ask for changes and another 15 days for VIGL to address proposed changes, so there will be about 60 days before the overall construction plan is finalized for one of the tracks, he said.
The franchise agreement gives a timeline of two years for 40 percent of the redevelopment work, with both projects being “substantially completed” within three and a half years. As part of the agreement, VIGL will be allowed to operate slot machine parlors at both tracks, once it has a license from the Casino Control Commission. Williams said he could not yet provide a timeframe for when slots will open at the tracks.
Government House also announced Mapp has nominated Sheldon A. Turnbull and Jay T. Watson to the V.I. Horse Racing Commission. If confirmed by the Legislature, Turnbull will serve three years in the St. Thomas/St. John district and Watson will represent the district of St. Croix for two years.
Before 2017 there were two commissions – one for St. Croix and one for St. Thomas. Mapp proposed legislation unifying the commissions. According to Government House the new, unified commission was created in order to provide consistent oversight of the territory’s horse racing industry.
“A single horse racing commission will bring efficiency to the oversight and governance of an industry that is an integral part of the Virgin Islands culture,” Mapp said. “Additionally, professional horse racing will encourage positive economic growth through jobs and tourism benefiting the territory as a whole,” he said.
Earlier in June, Mapp nominated Henry E. Schjang, Ian Samuel, Ronald A. Phillips and Dr. Laura Palminteri to serve on the commission.
In Thursday’s statement, Mapp said a revamped horse racing industry will create numerous new opportunities for young people interested in horses, veterinary science and hospitality, including the allotment of more than $100,000 in related scholarships. Starting with the construction phase, some new short and long-term jobs will be created, he said.