Putting ideas into action seemed to be the issue as Downtown Revitalization Inc gathered for its annual meeting Saturday morning at Lockhart Elementary School.
About 50 people, most of them DRI volunteers and members, attended the five-part panel to learn about the progress being made for the revitalization of Charlotte Amalie.
David Bornn said, “We have outlined five areas” – parking and traffic control, harbor transportation, mixed-use development, public safety, and beautification and historical preservation.
But he stressed, “We are not a funding organization. We are highlighting areas that need financial support.”
The purpose of the DRI is not to carry out the projects, but to find people who can. The DRI does all of the leg work involved in creating plans for the restoration of downtown, and then the group proposes it to government and private sector groups who can assist in making the project a reality.
Harbor transportation presents an ongoing debate for revitalizing downtown.
Royal Caribbean Electronics manager Gautam Daswani stressed that marine transportation is not just about getting tourists around island. It’s about getting residents around more efficiently as well, he said.
Taxi companies have proposed a traffic flow plan and agreed to other options such as designated pick-up areas in order to stay at the top of the tourist transportation industry.
A Havensight Mall representative noted that marine transport has not affected taxi drivers on other Caribbean Islands such as St. Martin.
Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, who was an integral part of several DRI projects, said plans were in the works to begin water transportation. Public Works has received funding for vessels and marine terminals. Four points critical to transportation downtown are being considered for terminals: Waterfront, Water Island, Crown Bay and Havensight.
Several of the issues with harbor transportation overlapped with parking and traffic, significant problems plaguing downtown.
Mandela Circle near Wendy’s is a big area of focus. Despite unfinished construction, the beautification projects and the new vendor’s plaza have increased the number of cruise ship passengers who leave the West Indian Company dock.
Beautification and historical preservation have proven to be very important to the community, said Stewart Smith, a planner on St. John. Utilities, lighting, sidewalks, signage, landscaping and integrating an outdoor atmosphere are just a few plans Public Works has for Main Street and Waterfront.
There was strong emphasis on making Charlotte Amalie a popular place for businesses, residential areas, entertainment and nightlife while still maintaining historical character.
In order to make downtown a popular social area, Acting Chief of Police for St. Thomas and St. John Darren Foy said we first have to make it safe by staying on top of crime, enforcing traffic laws and controlling the homeless community.
Bornn noted that this is not the first time in Virgin Islands history that people have stepped forward to revitalize downtown. In 1740, a similar group existed bent on many of the same issues as the DRI is today.
The DRI has a members meeting once a year, but the board meets throughout the year to discuss progress and new ideas.