The Magens Bay Authority Board of Directors heard several business proposals at its meeting Friday, including for a land and sea tour operation, murals on the park’s buildings, and a reduction in the fee that the King of the Wing pays to hold its annual fundraiser at the beach.
The board did not vote on any of the proposals, instead agreeing to take time to consider each and either hold an email vote or wait until their next meeting in April to render decisions.
The Walk on Water tours — suspended since the twin Category 5 hurricanes of September 2017, and then further disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic — are ready to resume, said representative H.L. Freyn, who also manages the Yak Shak paddleboard and kayak rentals at Magens Bay.
Addressing the board’s previous concerns, Freyn said the tour operation now has a business license, liability insurance, a new website, and a “proven plan” to ensure its guides are properly trained in the history and flora and fauna of the area. They also will have lifeguard and Red Cross certifications in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators, he said.
The sea tours would utilize between eight and 10 two-person pedal kayaks, which would be housed on a mobile trailer that could be moved off-site if necessary. Guides would take groups of six to eight people, Freyn said. The walking tours would include the coconut grove and the arboretum.
Walk on Water would charge $79 for the combined tour, $29 for the land tour, and $59 for the water tour, said Freyn, with 20 percent of the ticket price going to the Magens Bay Authority, he said.
Presenting on behalf of the 12th annual King of the Wing, scheduled for June 10, Vernon Araujo asked for a reduction in the fee the fundraiser pays to the authority to use the property — from $15,000 to $5,000 — so that it can give more money to charity. Last year, the event raised a record $105,281 for the V.I. Children’s Museum on St. Thomas.
“We’re happy to contribute to Magens Bay,” but organizers would like to give even more to charity, said Araujo, director of Philanthropy and Community Relations for Alpine Securities, a major sponsor of the fundraiser along with White Bay Group, and the V.I. Tourism Department.
Traditionally, the entry fee has been waived for patrons of the event. This year, organizers are proposing that guests instead take a shuttle from Fort Christian, which would alleviate traffic congestion at the gate, and parking issues on the street leading to the park, said Araujo. If they opt to drive, they would pay to enter, he said, which would generate money for the authority. “That would be a reasonable balance,” he said.
Additionally, volunteers will be on hand to collect trash during and after the event, and organizers will arrange to have extra trash bins on-site, and for their removal the next morning by A9 Trucking. “We want to leave the beach in better shape than we found it,” Araujo said.
Board members agreed to consider the proposal and hold a vote after they review the cost to the authority, including extra security, lifeguards, and gate staff. Member Jason Charles, one of the founders of the King of the Wing contest, said he would abstain from the discussion and vote.
Lastly, the board considered a proposal for murals by St. Thomas artists Casmore E’Bas, a Charlotte Amalie High School teacher, and his son, Casmore “Casico” E’Bas II. The father-son duo are well known for their works that grace everything from safaris, Carnival booths, the Crown Bay Center, and most recently, the wall at the foot of Crown Mountain Road across from the Nisky Center.
E’Bas presented a variety of designs for the board’s consideration, featuring a colorful mix of native flora and fauna that would be painted on buildings such as the gatehouse, the office, and bathhouses.
Board Chair Barbara Petersen voiced her preference for flowers over fish, and member Katina Coulianos asked whether words could be incorporated to make the murals more of a “teaching opportunity” for visitors while the park still lacks an official information center. Interim General Manager MemorieAnne Brown-Callender countered that she is working on a plan to place QR codes throughout the property that visitors could scan to learn more about the flora and fauna, and partake in a virtual scavenger hunt for different species.
After the short presentation, the board agreed to continue the discussion at their meeting in April.
In other business:
— Member Robert Moron said plans for a new Bathhouse No. 1, which was destroyed in the twin Category 5 hurricanes of 2017, are complete and ready to go to the Department of Planning and Resources for approval. The project is part of a Coastal Zone Management master plan but may require further CZM review, he said.
The $3.5 million project has seen several delays, in part because the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is funding 90 percent of the cost, rejected the initial design over its proposed enlarged footprint in order to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards and current building codes. However, Moron said they hope to issue a Request for Proposal by August and complete the work by the new deadline of September 2024.
“We are aware of the deadline and we are working diligently,” said Moron.
As permitted by FEMA, the board voted 4-2 to spend up to 10 percent of the grant for a project manager, who would be hired under a professional services contract, to handle construction of the bathhouse. Moron and Charles voted against the proposal.
— Petersen said the authority has received several responses to Requests for Proposals issued March 15 to run the park’s three concessions: the chair and umbrella rentals, the bar and restaurant, and the beach boutique.
Questions about the RFPs must be submitted by April 21 to firstname.lastname@example.org. Bids are due by May 26 to the same email, and all bidders will be notified by July 7, said Petersen.
The current concessions have been leased by the same family for more than 30 years, and in 2020 the authority came under pressure from the Senate to create new food and drink offerings that better reflect Caribbean culture.
Plans for a new and expanded concessions building were approved in 2020 by the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee but have been delayed as the authority first focuses on replacing Bathhouse No. 1.
— Petersen said staff are now using a biometric system that utilizes fingerprints to clock in to work, rather than punch cards, so there is “zero opportunity for graft.” It is the same time and attendance system the government of the Virgin Islands uses, she said, which goes directly to the Finance Department, thus also reducing time spent on payroll.
— Two members of the board will attend the Seatrade Cruise Global conference — taking place Monday through Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — on Tuesday and Wednesday to meet with five cruise ship companies to listen to their concerns and ideas about how to improve the authority’s offerings, as well as to discuss what the authority requires of them, said board Treasurer Cecile deJongh.
In August 2020 the board grappled with a pandemic proposal that would have created an exclusive zone on the beach between sheds 3 and 4 — roughly in the middle of the nearly mile-long stretch of sand — for Disney Cruise Line passengers.
The plan would have allowed those guests to congregate strictly among themselves on beach lounges set up in advance of their arrival, with no social distancing requirements, and attendants to guide locals and others away from the Disney designated area.
The cruise line’s requirement also included setting up a portable toilet — complete with air-conditioning and a fireplace — for the exclusive use of Disney passengers. This, too, the operators said, would have been off-limits to anyone but the ship’s passengers.
However, as there were no cruise ships lining the shores of the Virgin Islands after the pandemic’s start in March 2020, the meeting was marked by more questions than answers, and the proposal, which had not been put in writing, was more theoretical than actual.
Then board secretary, the late Elliot “Mac” Davis, a longtime board member who was devoted to the preservation of Magens Bay, expressed concern about the entire proposal. “If you open the door,” Davis said, “there will be more to come.”
He also bristled at the notion that local Virgin Islanders and residents would be discouraged from approaching or even passing through the cruise passenger designated area.
“It is antithetical to the purpose of Magens Bay,” he said.
In his 1943 deed of conveyance, Arthur S. Fairchild stipulated that Magens Bay should be “Maintained as a public park [with its natural beauty preserved] for use by the people of the Virgin Islands in perpetuity without discrimination of any kind as to race, creed, color or national origin.”
Attending Friday’s meeting at Shed No. 4 at Magens Bay beach were Petersen, Coulianos, Moron, deJongh, and Dayle Barry. St. Thomas Administrator Avery Lewis, who represents the governor on the board, had an excused absence.