The developers proposing a marina for Coral Bay’s south shore have a public relations nightmare.
While details of their project have not been made public, the developers of the St. John Marina; Yacht Club at Summer’s End, LLC., are now being blamed — erroneously — for the closing of the community’s Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School purportedly to make room for another marina project proposed for the opposite shore of the broad bay that is not theirs.
After years of community involvement with organizations and events by its principals to build support for their somewhat secretive plans for the community’s first full service marina, Louisiana transplants Rick Barksdale and Chaliese Summers are in full damage control.
“We just wanted to set the record straight and put the rumors to rest that it’s not us,” Summers wrote, “commenting on recent rumors that ‘a marina’ was behind the Guy Benjamin School’s closing.”
“Our project, The St. John Marina – The Yacht Club at Summer’s End is nowhere near the school, so it’s impossible that we’d have any influence in the closure.” Summers wrote in an e-mailed press release. “While I can’t speak for any other potential development in Coral Bay, our people and project have put both time and money into trying to keep the school going.”
Daily News Guest Opinion Misplaces Blame
The Virgin Islands Daily News published a guest opinion article headlined: “V.I. must not close Guy Benjamin School to give a developer space for a new marina,” the same day as Summer’s End e-mail, Thursday, June 12.
“A development group has coincidentally just received a grant — that must be matched by the government for $1.2 million — to build a marina in the same area, and the school would obstruct those plans,” the newspaper excerpted in large bold type from the piece identified as written by Anna Fisher of St. John.
“Send a strong message to the governor: End government corruption, save Guy Benjamin School!” the guest opinion in the Daily News read, closing by encouraging readers to sign an on-line petition.
The guest opinion may have been correct in its premise that a marina project could be behind the closure of Guy Benjamin School — it just fingered the wrong project.
The Summer’s End group has received a $1.27 million federal grant to develop their marina on the other side of Coral Bay, but it is not a matching grant.
Public Perception Is Clouded
Barksdale and Summers issued a statement that day which sought to clearly distance their project from a long-dormant proposed marina development on the north shore of the large bay adjacent to the elementary school which is being shuttered by the Department of Education.
Ironically, that decades-old project proposed for Emmaus Moravian Church property, including the entire undeveloped shoreline behind the elementary school, has seen new life since the Summer’s End St. John Marina project was announced.
Developer Cites Support for GBS
Summers cited two examples of their group’s support for the school, including their financial support and participation in the Coral Bay Yacht Club’s Almost Annual Flotilla which since its inception has helped to finance improvements and operations at the beloved school.
In 2012, Summer’s End partner Barksdale, along with Using Sport for Social Change founder Dean Doeling donated Eddie Bauer backpacks filled with school supplies to every single student and faculty member at Guy Benjamin School.
“It breaks my heart to see this happen,” Summers said of the school’s announced closure, citing “the importance of sustainable development that helps prevent the shuttering of schools and locally would support children, the generational culture of St. John and opportunities for families to have a better life.”
Moravian Church officials recently donated $5,000 to the St. John Rotary fund-raising effort for “temporary basketball court repair” to the Coral Bay court — but the church representative stressed the “temporary” applied to the courts themselves.
A representative of the Moravian Church recently reaffirmed that some of the church’s major landholdings on the shores of Coral Bay — including the church-owned Coral Bay field, the community basketball court on church property between the field and Guy H. Benjamin Elementary School and the undeveloped shoreline behind the elementary school — are in a long-term development agreement.
(The development group, T-Rex, has been in a long-term contract for a number of years for the development of the Moravian property, and has since joined with a venture capital company, Sirius Development LLC, as controlling partner, according to Rory Calhoun, the member in charge.)
“Meanwhile, the community should not suffer,” the Moravian church official told the St. John Rotarians when making the donation in April. “The children of Guy Benjamin School should have a safe place.”
“Our heart is still in the community,” the Moravian official added. “While we are there we need to be responsible for the property we own.”
“Even though we had already leased the land, they gave us permission (for the donation to repair the basketball court),” the official said of T-Rex.