July 17, 2001 – Planning or lack thereof was at the core of the discussion as vendors and preservationists faced off Monday night at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on St. Thomas.
The governor's Fiscal Year 2001 supplemental appropriations bill before the Legislature this week would allocate $200,000 for a roof over the plaza.
At Monday's hearing, vendors said they had been promised a permanent roof and restrooms years ago when they were moved off the streets of Charlotte Amalie and into the onetime parking area bounded by Fort Christian, Emancipation Garden and the beginning of the downtown shopping area.
Diane Magras, president of the Vendors Association, cited the long-promised roof and restrooms. The association secretary, Vincent Thompson, said the annual fee, initially suggested as $1,500, was reduced to $200 because the government has never come through with those amenities.
Opposing such amenities, Felipe Ayala, public relations officer for the St. Thomas Historical Trust, called Vendors Plaza an "eyesore" lacking conformity and collecting litter. "It sits at the entrance to our town," he said. "Putting a roof over it doesn't keep it from being an eyesore, but makes it a home for vagrants."
Ayala suggested the vendors be moved to areas closer to their customers off the cruise ships — in Havensight or Crown Bay.
Chaneel Callwood Daniels, chair of the government's Historic Preservation Commission, agreed with Ayala, saying vendor spaces were included in $8.7 million worth of planning for the area from the West Indian Co. docks through downtown Charlotte Amalie.
"We must develop alternatives that utilize other commercially viable areas and unused government property to construct tasteful, attractive facilities and improve Charlotte Amalie's appearance," Daniels said.
Magras, however, said she wanted to stay at the current Vendors Plaza site.
Vendors also told the Senate committee Monday that they want Andrew Rutnik removed from his post of commissioner of Licensing and Consumer Affairs. Magras said she had a petition with more than 5,000 signatures calling upon Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to fire the commissioner.
Rutnik, meantime, told the committee he understands the plight of the vendors. He reminded those present, however, that vendors has itinerant licenses, meaning they must pick up and move every day.
He expressed support for setting up temporary restrooms and installing a protective canvas roof over the plaza until the vendors can be moved to a more appropriate venue. He also said he is working on having the plaza walkways smoothed with cement to make them safer.
When it rains, the plaza still floods and vendors have to put their wares away to protect them from the elements.
Edith deJongh Woods offered comments as a private citizen, although for many years she was the driving force of the Historic Preservation Commission. "I have seen this town of Charlotte Amalie trashed in the name of greed," she said, terming Vendors Plaza a "shanty town" in "our front yard."
Woods lit into Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, the Finance Committee chair, who had called the meeting. "Would she propose this in the entrance to Christiansted?" Woods asked rhetorically. "Of course not."
The plaza was designed to accommodate 60 vendors. Nearly 90 currently operate there. Woods, a preservation commission member when the vendors were moved there, said, "Our problem is we don't plan anything."
But Myron Jackson, director of the Historic Preservation Office, and his colleague Claudette Lewis, assistant Planning and Natural Resources commissioner, showed up with plans – renderings of hip-roofed vendor cubicles that they suggested could replace the current hodge-podge of tents, umbrellas and tarps. However, their plan would require that several of the vendors move elsewhere.
Jackson showed renderings of the proposed highway expansion known as Plan 8 and said it would allow for ample spaces for the vendors. He said street vendors have long been a tradition of the Virgin Islands.
Committee members present for the hearing were Sens. Douglas Canton Jr., Donald "Ducks" Cole, Carlton Dowe and Norma Pickard-Samuel. Absent were Hansen, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, and Norman Jn. Baptiste.


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