July 7, 2004 – Crown Bay is rapidly assuming its new identity as a creative commercial development with a Caribbean accent, as well as an extended pier. The great mounds of dirt dredged from the harbor at the Sub Base site have been leveled, and in their place a modern West Indian village is rising.
The project, priced at about $28 million, is running behind schedule and is now slated for completion in late October or early November, engineer Alton Adams Jr., Port Authority construction manager, says.
American Bridge Co., the Orlando, Fla., contractor for the project, began work in January 2003. Groundbreaking for the development — which has a checkered history more than two decades in the making — was in June of last year. Officials estimated then that both the dock expansion and the shopping development would be completed by June of this year. (See "Crown Bay Project Targeted for Finish in a Year".)
Adams says the delays have been caused "mainly because of construction methods." He explains that some of the work involves what are called "tilt-up" panels, which range in height from about 8 feet to 38 feet. The tallest will go in the two-story FirstBank building on the southwest corner of the shopping complex.
Each panel must first be laid out on the ground to complete details, including the arched windows, Adams says, and then a crane lifts it into place. The panels are connected by metal "embeds" and welded in place.
"The slabs need lots of space to put them in place," Adams says. "Some of the other structures have been changed to solid masonry, concrete — and they're well ahead."
The Home Depot building at Market Square East was constructed using such panels, he says, but that work was done on a vast, open site. In contrast, the six-acre Crown Bay property is not much space for working around curved structures close together, still leaving room for walkways and landscaping.
The project is beginning to take shape, however. Conducting what he calls "the 12 and a half-cent tour" for a visitor, Adams casts a critical eye, noting everything from cedar ceiling beams to ditches holding blue and yellow water and sewer piping. The electrical wiring will be underground for easier maintenance and protection against storms, he says.
First Sight Off the Ship: The Arcade
"Building A," also known as "the arcade," is what cruise ship passenger will see first as they come ashore. It is enormous — roughly 11,000 square feet, Adams says. It will be filled with retail shops. The rafters are currently being put in place under the cedar ceiling. "It will be an exposed ceiling," Adams points out, scanning the rafters.
"What's that stain?" he wonders, gazing up at a beam, then consulting with Ron Martin, his chief inspector. They both make note of a potential problem.
Adams says the lumber is almost free of knotholes. "We insist on very few knots," he says. "They compromise a structure." The work is being done by Structural Roof Systems. "They aren't strangers to the territory, "Adams notes. "They did the ceiling on the Anglican Church restoration in 1998 [a reference to All Saints Episcopal Church] and the Wilmoth Blyden Terminal on the waterfront."
American Bridge is subcontracting much of the work. The project in all is utilizing about 90 percent local labor, Adams says.
The arcade is a graceful structure. The side away from the water is a long arc that will face a 40-foot-high replica of a sugar mill, "a focal point passengers will see when the ships come in," Adams says. The mill is designed to lend authenticity to the West Indian village ambience.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said at the groundbreaking ceremony that he was "excited" about the West Indian elements of the proposed design of the shopping complex. The governor, a history professor, said the sugar mill replica would "preserve the history of the Virgin Islands."
The structure, to occupy about 1,200 square feet, will house a gourmet coffee shop offering casual dining, Adams says. It will be slightly raised to give a view of the courtyard surrounding it. During Adams' tour, the foundation was being laid by what looked to be about a dozen workers in blue, orange and yellow hard hats.
A larger, more formal restaurant will be located to the west, closer to Crown Bay Marina, Adams says. He won't say who has leased space in the development, other than FirstBank. Darlan Brin, Port Authority executive director, also has declined to name potential tenants.
Adams points to the building on the southwest corner, "the only two-story building in the complex," he says, "and it will have an elevator." FirstBank will occupy the ground floor, with a drive-through facility, he says, and the top story will be office space.
Pier Extension Is More Than Half Done
Martin, leaving the arcade, points out what he calls a "walkway." So far, it's no more than dirt, but it will soon be laid out in pre-paved stones "with an aesthetically pleasing pattern," he says. "And separated stones will provide better drainage."
Work on the pier extension is more than halfway complete. The north side is finished; the south side should be later this month, Adams and Martin say. The pier, which had extended 200 feet on one side and 500 feet on the other, is being expanded to more than 900 feet on both sides to allow some of the largest cruise ships in use to berth at Crown Bay.
Martin spreads his arms out. "This is major for the V.I.," he says of the expanse with some satisfaction. He points out a U-shape where the former bulkhead used to be that will accommodate the ships' bows. "That was a lot of dredging," he remarks. For months, all one could see behind the black-cloth fencing were the tall mounds of dirt dredged from the harbor and awaiting removal.
The new pier will be able to accommodate up to four ships at a time, two on each side — double its previous capacity.
Toward the west are two solid-masonry buildings near completion. The only spots of color on the construction site other than the workers' hard hats, both buildings sport bright red roofs.
The roof of one structure, the arts and crafts center, even has a cupola. The building, 250 feet in length, will hold stalls for local vendors. And beneath it, Adams points out, is what will probably be "the largest cistern on the island — just under 300,000 gallons."
He explains that the buildings will have roofs of different designs and colors — "like a village." Walking through this village of his mind's eye, he stops frequently, pointing out things of logistic interest. "You see, they aren't too close to each other," he says of the buildings. "We did this for the breeze, to made sure we don't block the easterlies."
Each building is reinforced with a seismic floor design. Adams points out the steel fixtures secured in the foundations. The buildings are designed to withstand winds of 110 mph. In fact, project foreman Tom Melnick says, "They will withstand up to 150-160 mph."
From Melnick Adams gets an explanation of the stain he noticed on the arcade beam. Melnick assures him it is filler; it will be sanded over. "The bottom line when we walk away from this is we should all be proud," he says.
Adams agrees. "My father used to say you must walk away from a building with pride that you are part of that building," he says.
The arts and crafts center will front on landscaping. It will have a 265-space parking lot curving around the corner, facing the street.
An amphitheater is still in the works, as is the main restaurant, which will be raised so patrons will have a view of groups performing in the amphitheater — such
as the Territorial Court Rising Stars Steel Orchestra, Adams says.
The Port Authority plans to lease 60 percent of the commercial space to businesses targeting local residents and the other 40 percent to businesses targeting visitors.
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