The Carifest cultural entertainment park, which its planners say will be a one-of-its-kind Caribbean attraction when it is built, took a giant leap forward Monday as its planners reached a new lease agreement with the West Indian Co. Ltd.
Carifest Corp., which is owned locally, has leased about 9 acres of land south of the Havensight cruise ship docks where it will build a Caribbean-themed entertainment park to feature amusement rides, historical and educational exhibits, parades and performances.
The project, which began development more than 10 years ago, is estimated to cost about $60 million and be completed by winter 2001-02.
"It's an original project that you won't find on any other island," Carifest President Eric Matthews said Tuesday. "All the attractions in the park will have a basis of history, whether it's history from Trinidad, history from the Carib or Arawak Indians, or the history of the pirates.
"But the idea is to have fun. All the entertainment will simply have a basis of truth and a sense of history," he said.
WICO President and CEO Edward Thomas said the Carifest park will help St. Thomas stand out further among Caribbean tourist destinations.
"A project of this magnitude, when completed, will put the Virgin Islands in the forefront with attractions in the Caribbean," Thomas said. "There is a growing demand by the traveling public for family-type entertainment and the Carifest project is a major step in that direction."
Carifest has leased the WICO land for 70 years. It expects to draw about 739,000 visitors its first year, increasing to more than 898,000 by 2005.
Among the attractions planned for the park are the Birth of the Caribbean River Ride, a Caribbean theater, a pirate stunt show, carnival parades of light, daily cultural exchanges at a folk life village and marketplace, a Carnival Arts Heritage Exhibit, a Calypso hall of fame, the Roots of Africa Discovery Center, Shipwrecks of the Caribbean, a West Indies aviary, the Old Sugarmill Rum Factory, and Arawak and Carib villages.
A previous lease for the park expired in January. Carifest's planners are now more certain about the financing for the park.
"We have made major progress in attracting both the equity and debt financing and we will begin the design phase of the project next month," Carifest Chairman Leo Barbel said in a statement released Monday. "Assuming the financing is put in place and all permits are obtained in a timely fashion, Carifest should be ready to break ground in one year."
Carifest's planners are particularly pleased with the location because they feel it is safe, Matthews said. As important as the security, the park will visible to passengers on arriving cruise ships, he added.
"It's considered, by all appraisals, one of the best possible sites for this type of endeavor," he said. "When we light the place up and do some of the things we're planning to do, I think we'll get a few people off the ship."
The Carifest park fits right in with a plan to have cruise ships stay in port later into the night, Matthews said.
"It'll be something people won't be able to find on the ships," he said.
The Senate Rules Committee approved a bill last week to allow the ships to keep their casinos open in while docked in St. Thomas. This measure, if passed by the full Legislature, is expected to encourage cruise ships to stay later in St. Thomas.
The Carifest park should also liven up St. Thomas' night life for residents, Matthews said.
"Certainly some type of night-time family entertainment is critical because we have so little," he said.
And the park should provide a boost to the territory's hotels, Matthews said.
"Carifest can also play a major role in helping to revitalize our hotel industry, as presently there is a lack of night-time family entertainment available to hotel guests and local residents offering a convenient, safe, clean and friendly environment," he said.
Carifest is also planned to be an environmentally friendly development that will produce its own residual power, sanitation system and water. Planners say they hope to set a standard of how development can co-exist with the environment — a balance they feel is critical to guiding future development in the Caribbean.


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