The St. John chapter of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce continued to gather momentum at a Tuesday evening, December 18, meeting at St. Ursula’s Multipurpose Center which drew 18 residents.
The gathering was only the group’s second meeting in its latest push to energize the long-defunct chapter of the local chamber, led by St. John board member Kate Norfleet and executive director Joe Aubain.
With more than 600 members in St. Thomas and about 39 on St. John, the chamber works on behalf of business owners on a number of initiatives, Aubain explained.
“A lot of what the chamber does is not loud,” said Aubain. “We always have one to two seats on our board of directors dedicated to St. John. But the amount of activity on St. John is based on the activity of the board member.”
“The St. John group used to be a lot stronger and our goal is to build it up again to what it once was,” the executive director added.
The local Chamber of Commerce fields numerous phone calls regarding St. John businesses and accommodations, according to Aubain.
“I can’t emphasize how many phone calls we get about St. John,” Aubain said. “People ask about the reputation of rental businesses, restaurants, hotels and tour operators. It really says a lot.”
While there are numerous issues to tackle, the group will initially focus on security cameras, greeting arriving cruise ship passengers and securing a new emergency ambulance boat.
Funds For Security Cameras
The several existing security cameras in the Cruz Bay area are all currently functioning, yet it remains unclear what impact they have had on diminishing crime.
The St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce works in conjunction with the federally-funded Project Safe Neighborhoods and has the funds to cover the cost of additional cameras, Aubain explained.
“You need to figure out how many more cameras are needed and where you want them,” he said. “There is funding there and we can almost do this right now. We need to jump on this — we have the funding.”
Crime is the number one problem which can hurt local business and most importantly, tourism, added Aubain.
“If there is one thing that can destroy our homes, it is crime,” he said. “Your crime [on St. John] has increased dramatically over the years.”
Several chamber members signed up for a security camera committee which will work on the matter further and report back to the group at large.
Increase Communication with Tourism
A tourism committee will work on increasing communication with Department of Tourism officials and off-setting negative press posted on online forums and travel blogs, explained Debbie Hime.
“We want to get the V.I. Department of Tourism more involved here on St. John,” Hime said. “Their presence here needs to a pump-up and they are excited to meet with us sometime soon.”
St. John business owners need to be more proactive on online forums and Web sites which discuss Love City, especially when the discussions are negative like the recent posts about the James Cockayne murder which appeared on numerous sites, explained Hime.
“When people are talking about St. John and especially when those posts are negative, we need to know how to react quickly,” Hime said. “We need to answer some questions and address concerns quickly when they arise.”
Greet Cruise Ships
When cruise ship passengers disembark at the V.I. National Park dock, they are confused and don’t know where to turn, Hime said.
Someone should greet cruise ship passengers at the dock with maps and information.
The emergency medical services committee planned to talk to Steve Simon who has pledged to help secure a new ambulance boat to replace the dilapidated Star of Life.
Chamber members were given an account by Don Porter of the final V.I. Waste Management meeting on St. Thomas to discuss the proposed environmental user fee, which the Public Services Committee voted to deny last month.
WMA’s Latest Meeting
“The number of people there not directly involved with the PSC or the WMA were very few,” Porter said. “Only seven people testified and they were all against the proposal. It was an excellent meeting in the sense that everyone who presented was very professional and the committee asked very good questions.”
St. John Chapter members of the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce are still looking for members and community support. For additional information about the chamber or to become a member, check out the Web site vichamber.com.
The next St. John Chapter meeting will be on Tuesday evening, January 22, at 5:30 p.m. at St. Ursula’s Multipurpose Center.