The US Virgin Islands Economic Development Authority’s governing board met on Thursday to discuss their proposed 2023 fiscal year operating budget. The board voted to approve $7,138,500.
According to the presentation by CFO Kelly Thompson Webbe, $6,613,000 will be internally generated, and $525,500 will be appropriated for the budget. A summary provided by the EDA further broke down the sourcing for the proposed operating budget as follows:
- $6,613,000 from the Government of the Virgin Islands General Fund
- $500,000 from the Industrial Promotion Fund
- $17,000 from unrestricted income, to include loan originating/application fees, interests from savings accounts, CDs, and other miscellaneous fees that may be collected during the year
- $8,500 from other miscellaneous revenues.
“We do recognize that we are still in very uncertain times as we are entering the endemic. And therefore, we continue to remain strategic in the use of resources to meet critical needs,” said Webbe.
Webbe said that some of the objectives for 2023 include marketing the Virgin Islands South Shore Trade Zone to attract businesses to diversify St. Croix’s economy and increase financing and technical support for the second round of the State Small Business Credit Initiative funding.
Board member, Jose Penn, inquired about the efforts from the EDA and the impact it will have on hotels in the territory for the upcoming year.
“We have two approved HDA applications right now that’s currently online, The Ritz Carlton and also the Frenchman’s Reef Resort area,” said CEO Wayne Biggs Jr. “We anticipate them coming online later on this year, towards the end of fourth quarter, 2022.”
One of the central goals of the Hotel Development Act is to assist persons interested in building new tourist hotels and resorts or other related tourist facilities in the Virgin Islands by maintaining and disseminating information regarding financing available through private and public sources. Biggs further mentioned that two hotel projects are also anticipated to be underway on the south side and north shore of St. Croix as well.
“The old Sugar Bay hotel is in the process of submitting an HDA application also, and we anticipate that that will be back up online, probably towards the third quarter of 2023,” added Biggs.
Penn also inquired about housing opportunities for residents.
“There’s a variety of different things I think we’re going to have to do as a community to get housing in place. As you know, there is a housing shortage currently,” said Biggs. “There is a need for additional housing.”
The Enterprise Zone Commission’s governing board also met on Thursday. EZC director, Nadine Marchena Kean, presented an annual report discussing the organization’s programs.
The Enterprise Zone “is responsible for the revitalization of designated areas within the territory that are considered distressed, that were once socially and economically vibrant communities and the enterprise zone provides tax incentives and other tools,” said Kean.
Over the last five years, a tax benefit program for the EZC has invested $16.3 million into Garden Street (Upstreet) and Savanne (Downstreet) on St. Thomas and into Frederiksted and Christiansted on St. Croix. The majority of funding went into development on St. Croix, with Christiansted receiving 50.7% of funding and Frederiksted receiving 38%.
Kean also mentioned that though there are residents who want to restore damaged homes, it is challenging for them to receive funding to do so.
“One of the challenges is that of financing,” said Kean. “As much as there may be people who are very interested in moving forward in trying to fix these buildings and do things with the buildings, these buildings are not necessarily insurable because some of them are made of wood, and some of them are just too old to be insured. So banks are not lending for this purpose.”
The EZC board concluded its public hearing by voting on two items. The first was for the withdrawal of the Trust of Kiersten L. Peterson and The Trust of Daniel C. Shogren to be removed from the tax eligibility list due to incomplete documents for compliance. The trusts were granted benefits for the rehabilitation of #21 AB Prince Street in Christiansted, St. Croix, on April 6, 2017, and committed to investing $32,000 in the property.
The board also voted to withdraw Club Comanche, Inc. from the EZC tax eligibility list. Club Comanche, Inc. was granted benefits for the rehabilitation of a hotel at #1, #40, & #40A Strand Street, Christiansted, St. Croix, on July 2, 2014.
According to Shayla Anthony, programs and grants compliance officer, Comanche committed to investing $250,000 in the property. Comanche was granted benefits for the rehabilitation of the property but has failed to elect the benefits package for the last six years.