April 2, 2002 – Edward E. Thomas, president of The West Indian Co., says Gov. Charles W. Turnbull issued a directive last month for WICO and the Port Authority to work together to develop the Crown Bay dock and shopping complex. Attorney General and Port Authority board member Iver Stridiron says it was a request, "which is different — it's not a directive."
Stridiron's fellow VIPA board members went with his interpretation Tuesday, voting unanimously with him for the Port Authority to develop Crown Bay on its own with no help from WICO or any other entity.
On March 13, Turnbull issued a release from Miami Beach, Fla., where he was attending the annual Seatrade Cruise Shipping Convention, saying he would instruct the Port Authority to cancel the letter of intent it entered into last summer with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Carnival Corp. Turnbull said that although the agreement "has many merits, I believe it is important that the V.I. maintain full control of its harbor and harbor development."
In the release, the governor said: "I have also instructed The West Indian Co. and the Virgin Islands Port Authority to work together on the rapid expansion and development of the Crown Bay port facilities in order to accommodate the growing needs of the cruise lines for additional berths in the Port of Charlotte Amalie." Further, the governor said he would instruct the two semi-autonomous agencies to "proceed quickly to undertake the work necessary to complete the upgrading of the berthing facilities."
The VIPA board invited Thomas to appear at its regular board meeting last week, but he did not do so. Instead, sent a letter to the board chair, Pamela Richards, saying he would not appear until he had written evidence that VIPA had informed the cruise lines that the deal with them was off. He said he would meet with the board "as soon as the necessary actions are taken."
The board then scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday to meet with the WICO chief executive. However, Thomas was not present at the start of Tuesday's meeting, either.
Richards called a recess of the meeting and left the board room several times with Gordon Finch, VIPA executive director. She then reconvened the board and presented a letter bearing her signature to both cruise lines informing them that the VIPA board had voted to terminate the letter of agreement it and the cruise lines had signed last summer. She faxed copies of the letter to Turnbull and to Thomas.
Soon thereafter, word came to the board that Thomas was on his way to the meeting.
Before his appearance, the board voted to reimburse the cruise lines for the money they had invested to date in the Crown Bay project and discussed the financing for the development.
Finch said net revenues in VIPA's marine division top $8 million annually. He said that figure is "far greater than the amount that would be needed to service a debt of $35 million." The cruise lines had announced their intent to invest $31 million — $15.5 million for the dock expansion and $15.5 million for the retail development. Finch said he boosted the figure by $4 million to cover any additional costs the Port Authority might incur. He said VIPA was "very capable of servicing that type of debt."
Thomas arrived shortly after noon. He read from a four-page statement. "We would be pleased to work with you to insure that the expanded dock is constructed expeditiously," he began. The lengthy statement outlined three options: for WICO to develop the project, for VIPA to do so, and for the two semi-autonomous agencies, which have a history of animosity, to form a joint venture to do so.
In a brief discussion following his statement, Thomas suggested the boards of the two entities set up a meeting to discuss the issue further. Stridiron then introduced a resolution for VIPA to develop Crown Bay on its own, and the resolution was adopted unanimously.
The resolution states, in part, that "VIPA, after diligent consideration and examination of its financial status, is certain that it can meet the financial obligations of said land-side development and dock improvement incurred by undertaking the project on its own." It specifies that VIPA "shall solely bear the cost of said development, whether by issuance of bonds or by financing provided by a lending institution at a sum not to exceed $31 million."
The resolution concludes with a statement that "any interested person or entity may submit suggestions and/or ideas to VIPA to allow for the broadest possible input in developing the area."
Stridiron said all that remained to be done was to send the resolution to the governor along with the proposed plans.
Before leaving the meeting, Thomas told the board of two conditions WICO would expect to be met:
— That WICO's authority to assign berths would be respected and would continue.
— That the retail center would be designed so as to avoid any detrimental impact on downtown and Havensight Mall commerce.
Stridiron's resolution did not address these concerns.
Richards said, "I'm glad we've decided to go forward, with or without a partner." She told Thomas VIPA would be in contact with the WICO board to get more detailed information and to "make sure some of your concerns are addressed."
Stridiron and Finch said steps would be taken to make the retail facility as "supplemental" as possible. Finch said the center would occupy about 32,000 square feet and would incorporate office space and shore-side amenities not in competition with those by the WICO docks.
WICO and downtown merchants had opposed the development plans of the two cruise lines, saying their project would take shoppers away from the downtown area and from the Havensight Mall, which WICO manages for the Government Employees Retirement System.
Finch said, "The thing we are most apprehensive about is the loss of a 30-year commitment with the cruise lines to call on the V.I." However, he added with respect to the planned development, "I believe if we construct it as envisioned by those cruise lines, they will come with the ships they are now building; even without the commitment, they will come in the same kind of numbers."
Commenting outside the board room, Thomas said he would wait for Richard to call before commenting further. "All we need is to put this together," he said, reiterating that "the governor issued a directive. It is crucial we follow his directive."
Asked about the lack of response to his condition of berthing authority, Thomas said there might be a "hidden agenda" on the Port Authority's part. He didn't elaborate.
He declined make copies of his prepared statement available to the news media
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