The Virgin Islands Port Authority held a community meeting Thursday on St. Thomas to share updates on their intended partnership with a private company to modernize and improve the Cyril E. King Airport and to answer pressing questions from the public about the project.
This was the third consecutive day members of the VI Port Authority met to discuss the public-private partnership modernization projects. Over the last two days, two separate community meetings were held on St. Croix. The St. John meeting was scheduled simultaneously with the one on St. Thomas but was canceled and will be held at a later date.
Port Authority executive director Carlton Dowe said he felt “good” about the public meetings in St. Croix.
“What’s driving our agreement is the need to modernize our facilities,” said Dowe of the desire for the privatization of the project. “This P3 project that we’re talking about, and as we’re working along, will have the oversight that’s necessary. The FAA will weigh in in every step of the way with whatever we are doing.”
Dowe also reassured the public that the Federal Aviation Administration certificate, which allows airports to operate, will remain with the Authority and not the private entity chosen.
The director made a comparison to the public-private partnership, or P3, a project that was carried out for the SJU airport in Puerto Rico, which he said ended up providing the government of Puerto Rico with “hundreds of millions of dollars” for the people.
The P3 project will not only be conducted for the King Airport but for the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix as well. Both will be updated simultaneously.
According to the director, on April 19, the Port Authority board selected four qualified proposals from bidders looking to be selected to take charge of the project. He added that the Authority “is not engaged in any negotiations or discussion with any firms” that were shortlisted for the project.
The four companies selected to move forward for the procurement of the project are daa International, Vantage Airport Group, Ltd., Vinci Airports, and VIports Partners (Aecon, Tikehau Star Infra and Avports). Dowe ensured the public that Aecon is not to be confused with being or having any affiliation with Aecom, who was contracted to work with the V.I. Housing Finance Authority to do home repairs after the 2017 hurricanes.
The director shared in the meeting that stakeholders, partners, employees, and government officials were also informed of the P3 and added that Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. was “excited about doing this project.”
“All these institutions have serious input,” said Dowe of the stakeholders and partners.
The public inquired as to how were the four companies chosen as the qualified proposals, lease terms if local businesses will have the opportunity to operate in the airports, and how will the King Airport be redesigned to accommodate visitors with its limited space and capacity. Financial consultant Larry Belinsky said that included in the selection were that proposed bidders had to work on terminals that serviced more than a million passengers a year, had experience with airports in the United States that use TSA and CBP, and developed a terminal in excess of $250 million dollars. Bidders from Chile, Mexico, Canada, the United States, and Ireland took interest.
Dowe added that lease terms cannot be confirmed until the investment from bidders is determined. Regarding the space at the airport, “We have to work with the footprint that we have,” said Dowe. “We don’t have a lot of space in St. Thomas.”
Next month, the Port Authority plans to issue requests for proposals, with a December 5 deadline for submissions. Next year, the authority plans to begin the ground-breaking for the redevelopment of the airport terminals by the fourth quarter of 2024. The development is intended to accommodate the 766,000 passengers in the King Airport.