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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, December 5, 2022


Confusion was the word used Thursday by urban designer Torgen Johnson to describe both verbally and visually the current state of the St. Thomas waterfront.
He called up visions of cafés and artists' stalls, bike and running paths, a gathering place for tourists and residents alike all along the waterfront with shade trees and landscaping from Havensight to Frenchtown, instead of the "20 foot wide strip of most valuable land that is currently being used for overflow parking."
Johnson, a graduate of Harvard and a member of the team that designed the new Coral World, addressed a joint meeting called by the St. Thomas- St. John Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters to address the status of the St. Thomas Waterfront Project.
Johnson said most cities that have redesigned their waterfront areas have done so with Federal Highway Administration money. Many business people hope that is what will be done for the Charlotte Amalie waterfront.
John de Jongh, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, said that on Feb. 9, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull endorsed the new approach and wrote letters to the FHA, Public Works and Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas Inc., the engineering consultants that have been working on the project since the beginning, asking the firm to halt work on the Plan 8 project.
Johnson said he has put in "a thousand hours" of his own time on this new concept, calling it a labor of love.
"Once in a lifetime you come across a project that is so desperately in need of help that you have to do it," Johnson said.
Amidst slides of before, after and elsewhere, Johnson talked about what the St. Thomas waterfront could be -— an "economic engine."
Johnson showed a series of telling slides of the current state of the waterfront on both sides of the road. The slides showed vehicles parked on the apron, bases for lamp posts that are being used for dumping garbage, and a concrete, bunker-like structure that is supposedly a planter.
He pointed out a number of times that as residents, we drive by never noticing these things, but said the visitor's eye view is different.
He also pointed to the lack of sidewalks and general confusion for pedestrians trying to navigate the waterfront.
It was harder for Johnson to address the problem of traffic flowing east to west. The proposal for a four-lane highway that would go around the Legislature building, known as Plan 8, will only create more congestion, Johnson said, citing a report from the Surface Transportation Policy Project that says "it is widely acknowledged that building more roads does not relieve congestion."
Derek Hodge, former lieutenant governor, said, "I'd like to see more creative use of Federal Highway money. The last improvements that were made were during the Farrelly-Hodge administration and at the time I thought it was good, but now I'm saying ‘what were we thinking?'"
Johnson had pointed out those improvements cost $7 million.
Hodge also said thought must be given to traffic. "More people need to catch public transportation and transportation needs to be turned over to a private company."
Hodge spoke enthusiastically of Sydney, Australia, where the harbor is "incredible —- there are people juggling and performing mime, musicians and artists are gathered," he said. "But Sydney doesn't have a major artery next to its waterfront."
Erva Denham, president of the League of Women Voters, said the concept of the waterfront being turned into civic space is a "wonderful first step, but we haven't addressed the full question. We have to couple it with public transportation, fixing parking problems and developing park-and-ride systems."
The other members of the team, called Paradigm Design, who have been working on the new concept with Johnson are architect Scott Natvig from Harvard, Rossana Vaccarino, landscape architect, and architectural consultant Jose Ortega.
The senior technical manager, Melvin J. Kohn, for the engineering consultants on Plan 8 was at the meeting Thursday morning but could not be reached immediately for comment.
Gov. Roy L. Schneider also gave his endorsement to the new concept before leaving office, de Jongh said.

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