All Port Authority board members were present on St. Thomas on Wednesday to vote on several items, including the upcoming 2024 budget, insurance renewals, project developments and property renewals, with a lengthy discussion concerning car rental leases.
The board voted and approved many action items, some with easygoing votes and others that created heightened tensions. After a late start, the board immediately entered into executive session. Then, the board started on a long list of action items.
Members unanimously approved $246 million as the fiscal year budget for 2024. They also unanimously approved liability coverage for the Port Authority public officials’ insurance. The renewal policy totals $109,146. Likewise, the board unanimously approved to renew the builder’s risk insurance coverage for the Cyril E. King transportation center. The approved premium, which totals $362,208, extends the $6 million coverage. Also, the board unanimously approved an Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement grant agreement in the amount of $1,467,899 for the King Airport Taxiway A West project.
Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte questioned why poll votes such as these don’t go through committee. Deputy Executive Director Anise Hodge responded that they usually do; however, to secure the best premium regarding market responses, some votes come “quick and fast.”
Regarding property items, the board approved non-exclusive car concession agreements for Budget, Hertz, and Avis for a seven-year term and one seven-year option to renew. All concession agreements for the companies expired, with the latest being in 2017 by Budget. International Rental and Leasing Inc. operates both Budget and Avis, while DEFT Inc. operates Hertz. Since 2013, $3,873,393.50 has been paid by these companies for customer facility charges to match contributions of an EDA grant to build the King parking garage, build out the renovation of rental car counters near the baggage claim area, and upgrade the upper parking lot area.
“These companies have already outgrown the 80 spaces they have … We landed on a commitment to make 173 lots available to them,” said senior staff attorney Vincent Frazer. He added that the 173 lots are subject to ADA compliance and that the number of spaces per company depends on the percentage of the minimum annual guarantee that they propose.
Numerous questions were raised by the board regarding parking space allotments for rental car companies, taxi drivers, and persons with disabilities. According to the discussion, parking spaces on the ground level of the new King Airport parking garage are not dedicated to the public but to taxi and car rental companies.
“I don’t have an issue with them having some space, right, but if they have all the space that’s where I have questions,” said Boschulte.
“There should be some equitable consideration for other concerns and other interests,” said member Ariel Smith.
Frazer added that there may have been “legal promises” and “expectations” promised to accommodate the rental companies. The number of parking spaces being one.
All members except for Smith voted to approve the agreement.
Additionally, Smit T’s Barber & Beauty Parlor, LLC, doing business as Zone Out Massage, was unanimously approved by the board to operate massage chairs at the King Airport. Crowley Caribbean Service, LLC was also approved to enter negotiation for a 10-year lease with two five-year options to renew with the Port Authority at the Crown Bay Sandfill.
According to Property Manager Deborah Washington, Crowley will not be able to use the property until it is paved. Crowley requested that the rental term and rent fee be set to correspond with the contribution they are making to the local match for the PIPD Grant from the MARAD of the Department of Transportation. The monthly rent fee for Crowley is $50,742.63. Boschulte voted against the lease.
Board members Joseph Boschulte, Derek Gabriel, Lionel Jacob, Willard John, Kevin Rodriguez, Ariel Smith, Leona Smith, and Celestino White were present.