Chamber members discussed ways to keep Cruz Bay’s quiet character.
Members of the St. John Chapter of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce voted to create a draft of a proposed plan for the Cruz Bay waterfront and creek areas during the group’s Tuesday evening, May 25, meeting at Ocean Grill upstairs.
The 13 chamber chapter members at the meeting, which was led by Don Porter, discussed what changes they’d like V.I. Port Authority officials to realize along the waterfront and near Cruz Bay Creek — which was mostly nothing at all.
“I don’t understand what the big hurry is here,” said Andy Rutnik. “Why not create an ambiance there with open space and something we can access instead of that big fence. We should look at it as common space that should be preserved.”
“Why do we have to do anything there right now,” Rutnik asked. “We don’t want any big buildings and in the meantime we can have open spaces, some palm trees and benches and local vendors. Then we can let future generations come up with better ideas.”
The chamber chapter group is hosting a town hall meeting on the issue, co-sponsored by Senator at Large Craig Barshinger’s office, on June 24. While the location of the meeting has yet to be determined, group members were hoping to agree on what the group would propose for the area.
“If we have concerns with plans for the area, we should come up with what we want to see there and have it in written format to share at the town meeting,” said Porter. “We want to avoid a negative experience and come to the meeting with ideas of what we want to see happen.”
The St. Thomas-based architectural firm Robert deJongh and Associates was contracted by VIPA to design a plan for the Cruz Bay waterfront from the Loredon Boynes Sr. Ferry Dock to the Creek.
Among other plans, the architecture firm proposed to construct several commercial buildings in the area, which chamber chapter members at the meeting largely opposed.
“We don’t want to have a mini Havensight here,” said Glen Speer. “The waterfront should be for people to enjoy their lives on St. John. We shouldn’t have buildings along the waterfront.”
With construction costs continually climbing, VIPA would have to borrow to pay for the project, which could translate into higher fees as the semi-autonomous government agency looks to recoup its expenses, explained Speer.
“VIPA keeps having to borrow to pay for these things,” he said. “Construction costs are so high the numbers won’t ever pan out. So there will be higher airport fees or dock fees or something.”
“Plus the companies they’re going to lease the buildings to are EDC beneficiaries which don’t pay taxes,” Speer said.
Catering to corporate entities to fill proposed shops along the waterfront would alter the character of Cruz Bay, added Speer.
“VIPA is big on corporate entities and cruise ships,” said he said. “That changes our entire island and corporate entities just haven’t worked here. I don’t really think this project is going to happen because I don’t think they can pay the bonds.”
Walking areas devoid of vehicle congestion would be a great thing to have along the waterfront, according to Cid Hamling.
“I would like to see a walking area there with green space without congestion and traffic,” said Hamling. “And we could open ourselves up to the marine industry which we drove out of the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
While several members discussed plans for the creek, one chapter member questioned the purpose in the first place.
“Has anyone ever heard of the Port Authority listening to anyone,” asked Pam Gaffin. “What can we do this time so they really pay attention.”
In order to make their voices heard, the group should attend a VIPA governing board meeting, according to Lorelei Monsanto.
“I suggest that you go to VIPA and make a presentation at a board meeting,” said Monsanto. “You have to get up off the island and go all the way to the airport and make a presentation before the entire board.”
The group voted to have Rutnik create a first draft of a proposal which would outline limited activity along the waterfront. The plan will eventually become the basis of further presentations to the VIPA governing board and possibly V.I. Legislature and Governor John deJongh.