USVI Benefactor, Former Resident Richard Driehaus Dies

Richard Driehaus (Photo provided by Driehaus Capital Management)

Investment manager and longtime Virgin Islands resident and benefactor Richard Driehaus died on Tuesday in Chicago. He was 78.

A savvy businessman, who as a teenager began his investment education after losing $1,000 in the stock market he earned from a paper route, according to a Chicago Sun-Times article.

Driehaus opened an office in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1984 just two years after founding Driehaus Capital Management in 1982 in Chicago. Eventually, he took up residency and advantage of the Economic Development Commission’s tax benefit program, at a time when the EDC had begun to move from a product or manufacturing development driver to a more financial management and tourism-based program.

A significant by-product of the benefits offered to certified beneficiaries is the charitable contributions requirement. News stories around Chicago in the wake of his passing were full of examples of Driehaus’s largess. In the territory, one organization – the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands – was quick to note his varied and generous gifts.

“Richard provided support to CFVI for projects ranging from The Town’s Blueprint and the renovation of Roosevelt Park and its annual holiday tree lighting, to a matching grant to support USVI nonprofits after hurricanes Irma and Maria and the repair of the roof of St. Anne’s Chapel in Frenchtown,” CFVI President Dee Baecher-Brown said in a news release Saturday morning.

In 2006, Driehaus Capital Management pulled up stakes in the V.I. and returned to Chicago after a surprise regulatory change in 2005 by the U.S. Treasury Department, a change that in one weekend upended the residency and source income requirements of the EDC program. (See, EDC Regulations Are Out, Effects Being Determined)

In the years before giving up his V.I. residency in 2006, Driehaus paid millions in personal income tax based on his worldwide income to the Virgin Islands, according to numerous local knowledgeable sources. The loss of revenue from Driehaus and other financial services business owners due to the changed residency requirement was projected by a 2005 PricewaterhouseCooper report that foresaw the loss and projected it to be conservatively in the neighborhood of $110 million due to the regulatory changes.

Frank Schulterbrandt, EDC director at the time of the Treasury debacle, told the Source that despite his company being an EDC tax beneficiary, Driehaus, paid his sizable personal income taxes in the territory.

Though no longer tied by his EDC tax benefit requirement after relocating the business and residency back to the states, Driehaus, who still maintained his home overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor, did not cut back on his charitable giving to the V.I. He had established the Driehaus Community Development Fund with CFVI in 2002, and over the course of the next almost 20 years he made donations in excess of $1.8 million to support a broad range of projects and initiatives in the territory, which included the restoration of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Park in 2006 as a cultural asset in the St. Thomas historic district. It also included a grant in 2008 to the hospital, along with other donors, to support trauma care.

After the back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes that devastated the territory in 2017, Driehaus set up a $250,000 matching grant through CFVI, which was met. It was used for ongoing support to enhance the work of nonprofit organizations in the territory.

But the billionaire financier was not all business. He had a whimsical side. Numerous articles in stateside newspapers speak of his legendary themed birthday parties, the last one featuring Diana Ross.

Closer to his Virgin Islands home, he fed his penchant for the Wizard of Oz and love of pirate tales with a twice nightly display of colored lights through a waterfall on his property overlooking Charlotte Amalie harbor complete with a hologram of the wizard and accompanied by the 1812 Overture, which ran until the 2017 hurricanes.

Carteza, Richard Driehaus’s replica “pirate shop.” (Photo courtesy of Steve Simonsen Photography)

Anchored below was a replica of a pirate ship that he enjoyed personally, but quietly donated in 2015 to fulfill the wish of a 7-year-old boy with a life-threatening disease whose dream to be a pirate was fulfilled by the local Make-a-Wish foundation. Local activist Maria Ferreras said Driehaus strove to keep his contributions under the radar.

Ferreras, his neighbor for 20 years, added she “joyfully” reaped the benefits of the twice-nightly waterfall and hologram display presented solely for the entertainment of departing cruise ship passengers and nighttime kayak tours in the harbor.

“He was a humble humanitarian who embraced the Virgin Islands.”

Joyful was the word Baecher-Brown also used to describe the man who, she added, had a laugh that “filled the room.” Working with him over the years through CFVI, she found him to be “unpretentious.”

He would often be seen walking downtown among the tourists and locals with his daughters, in tow, she said, “just like a normal person.”

“I invited him to our house one night for dinner, and he came,” she said, noting her surprise at his acceptance “We served chicken,” she said laughing, “and he got up and got his own water.”

“He was an example of people who love the Virgin Islands, and whose contributions uplifted us.”

She said in a phone interview Saturday morning she was experiencing “a very personal sadness.”

The Chicago Sun-Times said Driehaus died Tuesday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage the night before at his home.

He is survived by his three daughters.