Moravian Property Developer Halts Coral Bay Basketball Court Renovations

While keeping the details of their proposed development from the public, a stateside company planning a major project for Moravian Church property in Coral Bay – which includes the land under the community ball field, basketball court, grammar school, fire department and planned police substation – has claimed control of the community’s basketball court.

After more than seven months of behind-the-scenes work, volunteers have given up on efforts to refurbish the run-down basketball court adjacent to the Guy Benjamin School because of insurance issues raised by developer T-Rex St. John LLC.

In addition to serving its intended use as a sporting area, the court — although dilapidated — is also used by many Coral Bay community groups for a variety of functions.

GBS graduation exercises and other school events regularly take place on the nearby basketball court whenever weather allows. The annual Coral Bay Christmas sing-along occurs at the court as well as other community gatherings.

Left Over Flotilla Funds
Funds raised at the 2005 Coral Bay Yacht Club Flotilla were originally earmarked for GBS playground renovations.

When federal and territorial agencies stepped up to the plate and covered the costs of the playground project, CBYC volunteers, along with GBS officials and Coral Bay Community Council members then decided to use the funds to renovate the basketball court, explained CBCC president Sharon Coldren.

“Beginning last October the people involved with the fund raising at the Flotilla thought it would be an excellent idea to have the basketball court refurbished,” said Coldren. “We had the funds and we were trying to figure out the best use for them.”

GBS Parent Teacher Organization members wrote a letter in October 2006 to Moravian Church officials requesting permission to refurbish the court area, Coldren explained.

“After a series of letters to and from church and government officials we got a letter from the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation’s new acting commissioner on February 15, 2007, giving us permission to refurbish the basketball court,” she said. “We contacted their staff and a vendor, Caribbean Courts Inc., who actually came here from St. Croix to evaluate what needed to be done. We agreed to what could be done with the cost and so forth.”

“We were quite literally, in the first week of March, ready to get the vendor to send us the documents to sign so we could write them a check to do the work,” Coldren continued.

Just as volunteers were ready to move forward, a call from T-Rex — which signed a 99-year lease with Moravian Church officials to develop their Coral Bay waterfront land including the land where the court is located — stopped the effort, “I got a call from T-Rex attorney David Bornn saying ‘stop, you can not do that,’” Coldren said. “Then on March 6, I got a letter from Bornn  saying that we could not refurbish the basketball court.”

T-Rex Attorney Says “Stop”
Citing insurance problems, Bornn wrote to  Coldren telling her work on the basketball court was not permitted.

“As for the matter of CBCC’s intent to undertake repairs and improvements to the recreational facilities within the Leased Area of the Project, you are again advised that such actions are not permitted or authorized at this time,” wrote Bornn. “Until the Moravian Church is able to update and confirm use and responsibility arrangements with the Government of the V.I. via the Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation, it is not possible to grant such authorization.”

After receiving the letter, Coldren continued to work with church, government and T-Rex officials to obtain permission for the renovation project.

“Subsequent to getting this letter, I have had numerous telephone conversations with Karl Purcell, the church’s attorney, Bornn, and the staff of HPR who all assured me that they were working hard to resolve these issues,” said Coldren. “But that was the first week of March and we are now in the middle of April with no resolution.”

“Frankly, whenever I contact someone, they say the other party owes them documents,” Coldren added.

The basketball court should not even be used until someone insures the area, according to T-Rex president Cliff Preminger.

“There is no insurance on the basketball court right now,” said Preminger. “It’s very hard to use that area with no insurance.

Our position is if someone is willing to step up and take responsibility to insure the land, we’re willing to allow the facility to be used.”

The national development company, which plans to construct a marina, shopping complex and residential units, is trying to be a good neighbor, according to Preminger.

T-Rex Trying To “Help”
“We’re trying very hard to be good neighbors and help the community,” Preminger said. “But we want to make sure that we, the church and the Recreation Department are all properly covered by insurance. If something did happen, we would all be pointing fingers at each other and whoever it happened to would be pointing fingers at all of us.”

“Rather than go down that road, it’s easier to go slowly with the realization that we continue to work on finding a solution that will adequately assign the insurance coverage,” continued Preminger.

The liability issue is not new,  similar issues exist all over the territory, explained Coldren.

“This is a problem everywhere,” she said. “All of us individually and in corporations suffer from not being able to get appropriate comprehensive in-surance, and we have to live with that.”

Community, School Need
Refurbishing the basketball court is a worthy project which should get the cooperation of all parties, explained Coldren.

“We need the basketball facility for both the school and the community,” she said. “We thought it was totally consistent with the manner in which the money was raised for school facilities and the double need for providing a place for young adults and teenagers in the community to spend their evenings in active exercise in a place in the community where they are comfortable.”

The community members who raised the funds now deserve to know what is happening to the money, explained Coldren.

“What can I do now but tell all the people who raised the money why I can’t spend it when we were ready to sign the contract and write a check,” she said. “All of this volunteer effort, that  has gone into planning and designing the basketball court, and the vendor who came over here on their own expense, it’s too bad.”

Volunteers Stopped Cold
“Everyone was poised and ready to go and we were just stopped cold,” Coldren added. “To have this become impossible because of bureaucratic red tape is very disappointing for everyone in the community.”

Community efforts should be backed up by government officials, the Moravian Church and T-Rex, Coldren added.

“The kids suffer because of this,” she said. “All of our volunteer efforts need to be backed up by the same kind of lets-get-it-done spirit from T-Rex, the church and the government.” according to Coldren.