Plans for GlobeVest V.I. to build a $55 million baseball, tennis, volleyball and swimming complex in Frederiksted with $30 million in V.I. Government funds upfront ended Monday, with a senate panel voting to indefinitely table the bill at Government House's request.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. asked the Legislature to table the bill that would have approved his own administration's negotiated agreement with GlobeVest V.I. and other corporate partners in a letter delivered Monday morning.
The move comes in the wake of a V.I. Daily News special edition with 10 articles attacking the project, printed Monday morning. The articles claim GlobeVest President and Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland recently lost his home to foreclosure and owes $287,000 in child support, for debts dating back to the 1990s. The author also checked into Sutherland's claims of advising former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and found that and other Sutherland claims to be false or greatly exaggerated.
The Daily News also alleges that another partner in the project, John Lehman, president of Network Sports Marketing, is also facing foreclosure on his home and has a separate, unrelated $130,000 judgment against him.
Sen. Usie Richards, chairman of the Rules and Judiciary Committee, which heard the bill Monday, said the issues raised in the news had already been raised during committee hearings.
"What we don't see is whether or not the partners have the wherewithal to carry it out," Richards said of the project plans.
Senate President Ronald Russell said plans "may need to go back to the drawing board," but he still supports rebuilding the Paul E. Joseph stadium.
"The issue raised is serious but it does not impact the commitment of St. Croix to move forward with a sports stadium,” Russell said. "I am still in support of this project but maybe this form of it needs to be reconsidered."
Sen. Sammuel Sanes also said he supported the project, and agreed there were issues to overcome before it should proceed.
"I just want to say for the record, the intent of the bill, to revitalize our community especially on St. Croix, is a good idea. But we need to clarify some issues," Sanes said.
Sen. Louis Hill recalled that the government had planned to finance its $25 million upfront share with bonds financed through the Communities Facilities Trust account, a fund established in the Diageo distillery's operating agreement with the V.I. Government. The agreement states that Diageo’s new distillery will deposit “3 percent of the annual gross cover over receipts” into the fund, administered by the PFA.
"That money is still in the fund, so I still think it is in our best interest to figure out how to still rebuild the (Paul E. Joseph) stadium," Hill said. "So for me I think this is just a bump on a journey we must continue to pursue."
Voting to hold the bill indefinitely were Richards, Russell, Sanes, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe and Patrick Sprauve. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen voted nay and Sen. Celestino White was absent.