Long-term commercial leases for the scarce Cruz Bay government-owned property are coming under scrutiny with long-time car rental company Delbert Hill being denied a 40-year lease and top St. John officials decrying long-term leases.
“St. John has a land problem,” said Senator at Large Carmen Wesselhoft. “We have scarce government property in Cruz Bay and we have more pressing needs for St. John. We have no recreational complex or senior citizen’s home.”
“We have needs that are more pressing than car rental companies,” Wesselhoft added.
St. John Administrator Leona Smith agreed.
“I am not in favor of long-term government leases,” said Smith. “There is a scarcity of government property and we shouldn’t be giving out any leases until we figure out what uses there are for the property. For instance, the post office is looking for a space and we want to expand government services.”
Parking Garage Needed
“The Fire Station needs to move,” Smith continued. “Hous-ing, Parks and Recreation needs to move and we have to find space for a parking garage. There are a lot of things that we need to talk about.”
Long-term leases are often approved by St. Thomas-based officials who aren’t familiar with Cruz Bay, Smith explained.
“People from St. Thomas approve these leases when they have no clue where these properties are located or what our needs are here on St. John,” said Smith.
There are about seven acres of V.I. government-owned land in the Estate Cruz Bay and Estate Enighed areas leased to a variety of businesses, from car rental agencies to Hill’s Plumbing and Heating, which is preparing for construction of a three-story mixed-use building on a small plot of government land adjacent to the historic Enighed Great House which is now the Elaine I. Sprauve Library.
No Answer from Millin
A written request to recently-approved Property and Procure-ment Commissioner Lynn Millin asking for information on the length and terms of Hill’s lease, which is public information, has not been answered in more than a month.
The term of plumbing and heating company’s lease is reportedly 40 years.
A written request was faxed from St. John Tradewinds to Millin on Friday, February 23. There was no response from Property and Procurement officials as of Friday, March 23.
Repeated phone calls to officials from St. John Tradewinds were not returned.
Leases for public land continue to come before the V.I. Senate, bringing St. John government property into the limelight.
Delbert Hill Denied
The legislature denied Delbert Hill Jeep and Car Rental’s proposed 40-year lease extension for government-owned property in Estate Cruz Bay on Wednesday, March 21, following the advice of Wesselhoft.
“The problem is long-term leases being granted on the island of St. John when we have a land crunch,” Wesselhoft was quoted in a local daily publication, and added that the lease denial had nothing to do with the Hill family or their business.
The lease agreement will return to Property and Procurement for re-negotiation.
Some government land leases have been in existence for so long that even the lease holders have difficulty remembering the size of their property.
“We have had the lease for so many years, I really don’t recall the square footage,” former Senator Roosevelt David said in an interview about his family-owned Best Rental Car business which is on government-owned land in Estate Enighed.
No Financial Wind-fall
The government is not enjoying a financial wind-fall from the commercial leases. Annual square footage rents hover around $2.75.
St. John government officials vowed to address the issue.
“I have spoken with Lynn Millin and expressed my concern that we set up a meeting in April to discuss the leases which were given to St. John businesses,” said Wesselhoft. “I told her that we need to address these long-term leases.”
While there is “nothing to be done” regarding Hill’s Plumbing and Heating 40-year lease, no additional leases should be approved for government land, according to Smith.
“We need to table all leases right now, until we find sites for all of the agencies that need to relocate and that we want to bring to Cruz Bay,” Smith said. “We can’t afford to just be giving away government land. Some government agencies are looking to rent elsewhere and we shouldn’t have to do that when we have these properties.”