The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced Wednesday it will be awarding $27 million in grants to the V.I. Port Authority to expand and improve two major airports in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
At a press conference on St. Thomas, U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary Dennis Alford said according to estimates, the projects together are expected to retain 179 jobs, create up to 158 jobs, and generate $6.1 million in private investments.
Breaking down where the money will be going, Alford and V.I. Port Authority acting Executive Director Damian Cartwright said $20 million from the EDA will help VIPA launch the first phase of a rehabilitation project at St. Thomas’s Cyril E. King Airport that includes the construction of a four-story parking garage with a rental and ground transportation center. Cartwright said expanding the terminal at Cyril E. King is critical, since the facility is three decades old and has “outlived its useful life.”
Altogether, the King Airport project is expected to span four phases, with each taking between 18-24 months to complete. Cartwright said this $20 million is for the first phase, but expressed hope that additional grant funds will be available for the other three so that construction can continue without stopping.
According to Alford, the local government is adding a $2.4 million match for the St. Thomas project, which he said will retain 139 jobs, provide another 116 jobs and generate up to $5 million in private investment.
Meanwhile, the remaining $7 million will help VIPA renovate, expand and enclose 5,500 square feet inside St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. This project is expected to improve the facility’s ability to withstand powerful weather systems, provide more space for concession and restaurants and upgrade the airport’s mechanical systems so that more air conditioning can be added, among other things.
The local government will provide a $1.7 million match for the project, which Alford said is expected to retain 40 jobs, create 42 more and generate $1.1 million in private investment.
Alford added that the local matches represent a “significant buy-in from the community” that will ensure the long-term success of both projects.
While celebrating the grant awards, Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr. also spoke Wednesday about the importance of putting the systems in place locally to ensure that the funds are not only spent on time, but spent efficiently. Bryan cited a long list of recovery funding awards – among them $2 million for aquaponics, more for health and another $259 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that he said “we haven’t gotten out there yet.”
“I’m grateful, but we have plenty of work to do in making sure we stabilize the government and get the money to the people who need it most,” Bryan said.
Bryan spoke about his recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he and other governors learned about additional funding opportunities that can be used to improve and restore designated “qualifying opportunity zones” and spur economic development.
“These qualifying opportunity zones allow people to invest capital gains back into the community, ensures the money that is put there is tax exempt for 10 years and that any project is also tax exempt and, after 10 years, there’s a discount on the money that was invested,” Bryan explained. “There is tremendous opportunity here for the Virgin Islands, but investment isn’t enough. We have to do the work, align and identify the projects now, and do what needs to be done to make sure that money gets back to the people.”