St. John Parking Woes Worsen as Tourist Season Starts to Peak

Parking rates posted in Cruz Bay

One of the true tests of friendship on St. John is the willingness to share one’s secret parking spot in Cruz Bay.

With the closing of the public lot next to the tennis courts until the conclusion of January’s inauguration events, at least 30 residents, visitors, and business owners who regularly park there are scurrying to find alternatives.

The problem is not limited to St. John. The parking structure at the ferry dock at Red Hook, St. Thomas remains months away from completion, and visitors heading to St. John for recreation or business have few good options for parking, especially at night.

Parking Tight in Cruz Bay

The Cruz Bay tennis court lot gets new striping

The Cruz Bay lot next to the tennis court was closed for maintenance shortly before Christmas, and much to the surprise of some skeptical members of the public, crews were busy on Christmas Eve marking off parking spots in bright orange paint. However, the lot will be used as a staging area for inauguration events and isn’t scheduled to reopen until January 9.

One popular parking area is the “gravel lot” owned by the Virgin Islands Port Authority located near the Moorehead Marine Terminal — about a ten-minute walk from the passenger ferry dock. This lot easily holds nearly 150 vehicles, but it has become a dumping ground for cars that don’t run.

On December 24, a count in mid-afternoon showed that out of 143 vehicles parked in the gravel lot, 20 had flat tires, missing wheels, or were otherwise too broken down to operate.  Four others were questionable. In addition, seven police vehicles were stored in the lot. Only two empty spots were available.

One St. John business owner expressed the frustration felt by many, “If you are going to close a desperately needed parking lot during the holidays’ business, wouldn’t clearing the nearby gravel lot of the derelict, abandoned vehicles seem to be a no-brainer?” he asked.

Clearing the gravel lot of abandoned cars is something the Port Authority has already done twice this year, according to Monifa Brathwaite Marrero, spokesperson for VIPA. VIPA is working closely with the St. John administrator to determine a way to secure the lot to prevent night-time dumping of vehicles in the lot by private individuals and wrecker companies on St. John, she said.

In November 2016, then-director of VIPA Carlton Dowe told the St. John community that bids were being taken to pave the gravel lot in preparation for charging short and long-term parking. That plan never came to fruition, partly because Dowe and other top managers at VIPA were fired by Gov. Kenneth Mapp a month later, and partly because the hurricanes in September 2017 forced VIPA to reset its priorities.

Brathwaite Marrero said, “VIPA does intend to eventually pave the gravel lot at the Moorehead Dock and Terminal. However, there is no funding available for this project in our current Fiscal Year 2019 budget.”

The Port Authority also intends to improve the lighting at the gravel lot; as one of the darkest and least trafficked spots in the Cruz Bay area, it has become a refuge for some of St. John’s homeless population.

Of course, the lack of free parking has stimulated business for the owners of the three paid parking lots in Cruz Bay. Residents, however, balk at the rates, which run as high as $50 for 24 hours of parking.

The Lumberyard Complex was cleared in October and is being readied for paid parking.

While cruising for a spot, some drivers are looking longingly at the empty paved area which was the site of the Lumberyard Complex. Destroyed by Hurricane Irma, the property was completely cleared in October 2018. A portion of the .79-acre site in the heart of Cruz Bay is now being readied for paid parking, according to David Olson of Legacy Development V.I., which owns the property

Olson said he hoped to be ready by the holidays, but “we’ve had some delays,” he said. “We have to make it safe.”  Olson said he was contemplating several uses of the area and was talking to a non-profit about operating the lot as a fundraiser for the organization.

Parking at Red Hook Equally Frustrating

The parking lot adjacent to the ferry terminal in Red Hook was closed in December 2016 to allow for construction of a parking deck that would add 88 spaces. (The street-level lot, which could accommodate one hundred cars, was almost always full.) The expanded structure was scheduled to reopen eight months after construction began.

Completion of the parking structure in Red Hook is still months away.

As with most construction projects, the parking structure was delayed by Hurricane Irma. Brathwaite Marrero said the project should be completed by the end of the first quarter of 2019.

“The original cost of construction was $5.3 million.” said Brathwaite Marrero.  “VIPA’s board approved Change Order No. 1 for this project at its Dec. 19, 2018 board meeting. The change order was from the contractor, Eleven Construction, in the amount of $164,358 to address additional reinforcements according to code for the cantilever slab structure and columns anchorage into pile caps for the parking garage structure.”

When construction for the parking deck began after December 2016, “VIPA initially made an arrangement with East End Taxi to provide shuttle service via a temporary parking lot adjacent to the Eudora Kean High School,” Brathwaite Marrero explained. “However, the lot and the shuttle service were rarely used and the shuttle service was discontinued.”

Users of the shuttle service complained that it was unreliable. One regular weekly commuter was forced to cancel evening meetings on St. John on several occasions because shuttles failed to show up and no other parking was available. The lot is still used by commuters willing to make the 15-minute walk to the ferry dock.

In the meantime, commuters and visitors to St. John have to scramble to find places to park in Red Hook. Construction workers often park along the road toward Sapphire Bay during the day. At night, the walk down the road with no sidewalks is less appealing. A limited number of paid spaces are available at Sunshine Parking and at the marina at Red Hook.

Until Hurricane Irma, Cruz Bay bar and restaurant owners used to enjoy a fair amount of business from St. Thomas visitors who roved from one nightspot to the next and then caught the 11 p.m. ferry back to Red Hook. These business owners were hoping that the VIPA parking structure would be completed in time for the peak of tourist season, now underway. They’re now adjusting their expectations. Maybe by the July 4 festival?