Urban Land Institute Report Advises St. Thomas on Making Changes

Blueprint map of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (mapsasart.com)

According to a new report published by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the community of St. Thomas must leverage the federal funding allocated in the wake of hurricanes Maria and Irma in order to kickstart changes in resilience, economic development, the local environment and governance strategies. The institute is a global, multidisciplinary real estate organization whose work is driven by more than 46,000 members dedicated to responsible land use and building thriving communities.

The report is based on recommendations from a panel of land-use and urban development experts convened in August 2019 through the Urban Land Institute’s Advisory Services program. The panelists came to St. Thomas to advise the island on the creation of new resilience techniques, an equitable economic development vision, integrating the existing affordable housing stock into the surrounding neighborhood, and creating a cultural theme to tie the area together. The report divides its recommendations into five categories:

  • Addressing recovery and resilience: The Advisory Services panelists commended the US Virgin Islands on demonstrating a long standing-commitment to sustainability and climate resilience. However, they urged the community to do more by using Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funding to invest in energy alternatives, expand existing commitments to climate resilience and explore decoupling and privatization of portions of the utility grid;
  • Addressing economic development: The panelists recognized that St. Thomas is especially dependent on tourism. The panelists recommended that St. Thomas create an equitable economic development plan that catalyzes local small business activity that includes being intentional about workforce training and placement, enhancing tourism offerings, and creating opportunities for public housing and other low-income residents;
  • Addressing housing: The panelists urged St. Thomas to use this once-in-a-lifetime funding to totally revitalize the public housing sector while focusing on minimizing displacement and enhancing service, civic and social networks;
  • Addressing the built environment, placemaking and mobility: The Advisory Services panelists recommended that St. Thomas improve the quality of life through reunifying and connecting surrounding communities by recognizing and celebrating St. Thomas’s unique culture and tying those themes into placemaking, improving health and quality of life through mobility enhancements, and reinforcing built environment concepts; and
  • Addressing governance: The panelists advised St. Thomas to improve coordination between agencies, reinforce comprehensive planning functions within the territory, and engage the community by creating an office of community engagement and bolstering confidence in leadership.

The panel was chaired by leading Urban Land Institute member Adam Weers, principal at Trammell Crow Company, Washington, D.C.

“The Advisory Services panelists team were honored to assist the government of the Virgin Islands in planning for the revitalization as part of the ongoing recovery efforts throughout USVI,” said Weers. “We hope the panel’s work this year provided useful and actionable recommendations, and we hope to find ways for ULI to continue to support USVI leadership as they move toward implementation.”

Weers was joined on the panel by Neil Albert, president and executive director, Downtown BID, Washington D.C.; Dan Anderton, senior planner/landscape architect, Dewberry, Germantown, Md.; Allison Anolik, senior transportation planner, AECOM, Raleigh, N.C.; R. David Gibbs, renewable energy consultant, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Marion Mollegen McFaden, senior vice president, public policy, senior advisor, resilience, Enterprise Community Partners Inc., Washington D.C.; and Tyrone Rachal, president, Red Rock Global Capital Partners, Atlanta, Ga.

The panel’s work is built on the efforts of earlier Urban Land Institute’s Advisory Services panels conducted in 2018 on St. Croix, which provided recommendations on the island’s economic development, creating affordable housing, improving transportation links and resiliency strategies, and focusing on short and long-term economic growth and resilient development.

For more than 70 years, ULI’s Advisory Services Program has assembled ULI members who are experts in the fields of real estate development and sustainability to advise communities facing complex urban development challenges. In addition to St. Thomas, Advisory Services panelists have assisted other communities in resilience related issues such as Miami, Fla.; Lafayette, La. and El Paso, Texas.

Past sponsors of ULI Advisory Services panels include federal, state, and local governments; regional councils of government; chambers of commerce; redevelopment agencies; private developers and property owners; community development organizations; lenders; groups focused on historic preservation; local nonprofits; environmental organizations and economic development authorities.

The Urban Land Institute is a nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the institute has more than 46,000 members worldwide representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

For more information, contact Justin Arnold: 202-448-8717, justin.arnold@uli.org