Plans for St. John Multipurpose Center Getting Dusted Off

Doug White drew plans two decades ago for a Cruz Bay multipurpose center to be constructed near the Bureau of Motor Vehicles parking lot.

After collecting dust for more than 20 years, a long-dormant plan to construct a multipurpose center in Cruz Bay might just be getting new life again soon.

Plans for a St. John multipurpose center, which include an indoor basketball court, stage, kitchen, meeting rooms and dorms for visiting sports teams, were drawn by architect Doug White more than 20 years ago.

The plans date back to the administration of Governor Alexander Farrelly, when Darlin Brin was the Commissioner of Conservation, the government agency which pre-dated the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. A master plan for the island was created in the mid-1980s under Farrelly, which called for a community center to be constructed in the Cruz Bay area, explained White.

“When the master plan for the island was crafted, it was always planned to have a community center in Cruz Bay and 20 years later it seems like we might get it,” said White.

The government put out a request for proposals and White won the bid to provide architectural services. Working with a design advisory committee, White ensured that the community center was exactly what the community wanted, he explained.

“The advisory committee included a wide spectrum of St. John people,” White said. “Former St. John Administrator Bill Lomax was a key member of the committee and a lot of other people weighed in too. We really tried to incorporate everyone’s needs.”

The planning phase of the project alone took months and resulted in plans for a comprehensive multipurpose center with a 1,200 seating capacity auditorium, additional meeting rooms, a full size indoor basketball court and parking for 90 vehicles. The building would also be suitable as a hurricane shelter in the event of a disaster.

The plans call for the center to be built on government land near the Bureau of Motor Vehicles’ current location. The tennis courts would remain, and the two-story multipurpose center building would be situated nearby. The entrance to the building would be accessed via the side street near St. Ursula’s Church.

About $200,000 was spent on the plans and the community center was to be constructed with money from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund.

While it seemed like the Cruz Bay multipurpose center was a go, a fire at the Susanaberg dump changed everything.

When the dump caught fire in 1990, money from the St. John Capital Improvement Fund was transferred to the Department of Public Works to put the flames out.

In the 20 years since then, the $1.5 million annual St. John Capital Improvement Fund was paid to Penn’s Trucking for hauling St. John trash to the St. Thomas landfill.

Last week, however, the fund was finally returned. On Monday, March 8, the V.I. Senate voted almost unanimously to return the St. John Capital Improvement Fund to St. John for capital improvements, not trash hauling.

With a new source of funding available for the long-promised multipurpose center in Cruz Bay, it seems White’s plans might be getting dusted off soon. Despite sitting on a shelf for two decades, the multipurpose center plans are still viable, according to White.

“The idea was to develop a community center for St. John that was really workable and wouldn’t be out of date for years and years,” White said. “We knew this could take some time to build, so we intentionally created the plans to still be valid years down the road. We haven’t outgrown these plans.”

Attempting to resuscitate the project, White and Cruz Bay multipurpose center supporter Norman Gledhill recently met with Senate President Louis Patrick Hill and Hill’s St. John liaison Bonny Corbeil. Hill was more than receptive to the plan, according to Gledhill.

“When you meet with a government official you always hope to come out with a better feeling,” said Gledhill. “After meeting with Senate President Hill, I think we came out with a big jump and my feet haven’t hit the ground yet.”

“He was very enthusiastic about the plan and Bonny helped tremendously,” Gledhill said. “The senator even called his secretary on St. Thomas to put a bill together to use the Capital Improvement Fund to finance this.”

The multipurpose center is expected to cost between $8 and $10 million, according to Gledhill.

Giving St. John groups a direct voice to Senator Hill is exactly what Corbeil was hired to do, she explained.

“I figure part of my job in this new position is to make Senator Hill aware of all the different planning that has been done through the years by different groups and people that really didn’t come to fruition,” said Corbeil. “So many people have tried to do good things but then a new administration comes in and, as citizens, we’re back to square one. We can educate people about the work that has already been done.”

A more recent idea for an island community center has been growing in the ranks of the St. John Community Foundation. The group envisioned building a multipurpose center on land it owns on Gift Hill near the Belleuve Village community.

SJCF’s plan was raised at a February town meeting hosted by Corbeil, and while Hill was on St. John recently he met with SJCF members as well, Corbeil added.

“At the town meeting SJCF members talked about land they own on Gift Hill and about a way to get a multipurpose center built,” said Corbeil. “Senator Hill wanted to meet with the SJCF board of directors and I thought it would be good to meet with Norm and Doug too since they did so much work on this back during the Farrelly administration.”

While it remains to be determined which location would be ideal for a multipurpose center, there seems to be agreement that such a facility is needed.

“Personally as a citizen, I think we need to let our kids know how much we think of them and we can do that by building a proper community center for our kids and for all of our residents,” said Corbeil. “Both of the plans are actually really different animals. But a community center is general would be a great way to unit our island.”

“I really see this as a wonderful way to unite our whole community and give us a place to host meetings with large groups of people,” Corbeil said. “I think a community center is something that we’ve needed for a long time.”