May 6, 2002 — The Coastal Zone Management committee on Monday approved the V.I. Port Authority's $30 million plan to build a shopping center and expand the Crown Bay cruise ship dock in Sub Base.
The CZM committee voted unanimously in favor of both the dock expansion and construction of the 57,000-square-foot retail center. Committee Chairman Austin Monsanto and member Winston Adams voted for both projects, but committee member Peggy Simmonds voted only for the dock expansion.
She abstained from voting on the retail center because the Port Authority had previously revoked a land-lease agreement that her husband, Michael Simmonds, had at the Crown Bay site.
CZM committee member Robert Mathes was off-island Monday, Monsanto said.
The CZM decision is the first step toward construction of the dock expansion and shopping center. With the CZM approval, the Port Authority now expects to receive the required permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, and then the Senate and Gov. Charles Turnbull must also approve the plan, Gordon Finch, head of the Port Authority, said.
If all of that goes through, the Port Authority would then seek to float 30-year bonds to pay for the project, Finch said.
He has heard there may be a move afoot to stop the expansion plan when it comes before the Senate, but he again defended the proposal as a potential boon for attracting the cruise ships to St. Thomas.
"There is no question that this project will be good for the people of the Virgin Islands," he said after the CZM decision.
The dock expansion would allow the latest generation of 1,000-foot mega-ships to use the Crown Bay dock, Port Authority planners have said.
Accommodating those ships on St. Thomas will be essential to maintaining the cruise ship industry here, Finch has said.
About 180,000 cruise ship passengers disembark at Crown Bay each year, but the number could grow to 650,000 with the dock expansion, Port Authority Planner Darlan Brin told the CZM committee at a public hearing last month.
The plan has come under some fire although little criticism has been aired at public hearings so far as a potential threat to existing businesses in Havensight and downtown Charlotte Amalie.
Monsanto said Monday he does not believe the shopping center would hurt other businesses. The Port Authority has indicated it would rent retail space to a wide variety of different types of businesses.
"There's really no threat to the shops in Havensight or downtown," he said, adding that he feels the plan is necessary to serve passengers passing through Sub Base. "We can't continue to have passengers coming off the cruise ships in the condition that area is in now."
The CZM committee attached several conditions to their approval: the architecture of the shopping center must be consistent to styles used in Charlotte Amalie; taxis serving the dock would gather on the back road between the airport and Sub Base to relieve traffic congestion; the dock, promenade and shopping areas would be open to the public; and the Port Authority would reserve space for an educational center with materials about the history and culture of the Virgin Islands. The committee also placed several conditions to reduce the environmental impact of the expansion.
The Senate has not yet scheduled hearings on the Crown Bay dock proposal.