Gov. Albert Bryan spoke of a new type of tourism – recovery tourism – Thursday when he addressed the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce and previewed the territory’s challenges over the next few years.
Bryan said “inflation is killing us,” partly due to the 1,200 new residents who are reopening the refinery and helping to rebuild after two Category 5 hurricanes in 2017. The police department is overworked and undermanned and the roads and drainage systems are a problem.
Rental properties are scarce and prices have increased for home buyers. Merchants are having a very hard time finding workers and money is being sent to the mainland instead of being spent in the territory.
“We need to shake every single dime out of their pockets,” he said as he talked about recovery tourism. “We’ll make sure your bellies are full first,” he added.
Bryan pointed out that even through the territory has $1.8 billion in recovery funds, and as much as $20 billion promised over the next few years, financial problems linger and a 20-year plan is necessary to maximize the effects of the federal funding.
Bryan assured the group that the St. Croix hospital will be torn down and rebuilt within the next few years, and $50 million will be invested in sports complexes, including Paul E. Joseph stadium and at the University of the Virgin Islands.
The territory desperately needs new hotels, and building at least one is his first priority, the governor said. A lot of infrastructure needs to be repaired or rebuilt and St. Croix needs more cruise ship calls, he added.
The new governor envisions more marine development, including extra slips and shipyards and the dredging of the Christiansted harbor for small cruise ships. The port of the former St. Croix Alumina should be used as well as part of the refinery for shipping, he said.
Some of the governor’s other goals include repairing schools and infrastructure and training and educating the populace.
The governor answered a few questions from the audience and listened to a Christiansted merchant who described citizens’ fear due to the recent increase in violence. Ingrid White, owner of Cueros Leather Goods and a friend of a recent murder victim, the owner of Panache Jewelers, presented the governor with a petition signed by 100 people. She passionately spoke about the fear of closing shops after dark and homeless individuals, with nowhere to go, who deface merchants’ property.
“Something needs to be done now,” she said, at least a police patrol in town. The governor agreed and responded that patrols have already been ordered. He said there is a new class of cadets ready to graduate and more federal agents will be called in to deal with gangs and drug problems.
At the beginning of the meeting, Ryan Nelthropp, St. Croix Chamber of Commerce chairman, said the membership will “focus on strengthening their relationship with the government,” as he introduced Bryan to address the group at Gertrude’s Restaurant.
In return, Bryan said he plans to work “hand in hand with the Chamber.”
“The role of government is to provide the highest quality of life for our citizens and to facilitate every business making money so we can collect taxes,” Bryan said.