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FINCH: WICO ASKED FOR CROWN BAY PROJECT

Nov. 16, 2001 – Comments made Wednesday by Edward Thomas, president of The West Indian Co., that the Port Authority would be better off investing in a cruise ship homeporting facility on St. Croix instead of a Crown Bay marine port/shopping center on St. Thomas drew strong criticism from VIPA’s top manager Thursday.
First of all, Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, said, the Crown Bay development idea came from members of the government's Cruise Ship Task Force, which included Port Authority, WICO, local private sector and Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association representatives. He said both Thomas and the F-CCA urged the plan to expand the Crown Bay dock.
The expansion that is part of the Crown Bay plan would allow enough new berthing space to accommodate ships that now must moor in the inner and outer St. Thomas harbor areas when the WICO dock in Havensight is full. Finch said Thomas and former Gov. Roy Schneider approached the Port Authority about expanding Crown Bay facilities years ago.
"Not at any time did [Thomas] talk about any objections to Crown Bay," Finch said, adding, "The cruise lines want Crown Bay developed so badly they’ve become part of the bidding process."
Thomas, speaking to a business group on St. Thomas Wednesday, cited what he considers would be drawbacks to the visitor experience on St. Thomas if the Port Authority were to open a new shopping district at Crown Bay in addition to those in Charlotte Amalie and Havensight. Essentially, he said St. Thomas does not need any more tourism-oriented retail outlets. He said a better idea would be for the Port Authority to invest its $9 million earmarked for the Crown Bay project in a cruise ship homeport on St. Croix.
Finch noted that new retail space adjacent to the Crown Bay facility would compete with the Havensight Mall and said he questioned Thomas's motives in opposing the plans. WICO operates Havensight Mall for the Government Employees Retirement System, which owns it.
Finch also stressed that proceeding with the Crown Bay project doesn't mean abandoning the idea of constructing a homeport facility on St. Croix. He said the issue isn’t St. Croix versus St. Thomas. The Port Authority "has always spoken about doing both," he said.
That idea was supported by the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, whose president, John deJongh Jr., co-chaired the Cruise Ship Task Force.
The chamber views the proposed development at Crown Bay not as a an island-versus-island issue, but as an example of providing necessary infrastructure for visitors while at the same time leveraging private-sector funds to further economic development, deJongh said in a statement.
"In our many meetings with the Task Force it has always been clear that some development would be needed to accommodate disembarking cruise ship passengers," deJongh said, "but task force members agreed that another shopping mall was not the answer." He added, however, that it was always considered important that any development serve as a reception area for the cruise passengers and incorporate the marketing and promotion of the territory and locally made products.
He said the chamber agrees that homeporting on St. Croix should be pursued because it would serve the best interests of the entire territory. Like Finch, however, he said airlift, ground transportation and hotel issues on St. Croix must be addressed before the homeporting efforts are undertaken.
Finch said the F-CCA recommended against developing a homeporting facility on St. Croix for now, mainly because of the infrastructure shortcomings. He said Holland America Cruise Lines looked into the idea three years ago, but the bottom line was that the Ann A. Abramson Pier in Frederiksted wasn’t large enough to accommodate both ships calling at the port and ships using the pier as a homeport.
Finch said that is not the the biggest obstacle, however; St. Croix's lack of airline arrivals is. "St. Croix has no scheduled air service of a significant quantity," he said. "Unless we get significant airlift … it can’t be used for homeporting."
Jean P. Greaux Jr. contributed to this report.

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Nov. 16, 2001 - Comments made Wednesday by Edward Thomas, president of The West Indian Co., that the Port Authority would be better off investing in a cruise ship homeporting facility on St. Croix instead of a Crown Bay marine port/shopping center on St. Thomas drew strong criticism from VIPA’s top manager Thursday.
First of all, Gordon Finch, Port Authority executive director, said, the Crown Bay development idea came from members of the government's Cruise Ship Task Force, which included Port Authority, WICO, local private sector and Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association representatives. He said both Thomas and the F-CCA urged the plan to expand the Crown Bay dock.
The expansion that is part of the Crown Bay plan would allow enough new berthing space to accommodate ships that now must moor in the inner and outer St. Thomas harbor areas when the WICO dock in Havensight is full. Finch said Thomas and former Gov. Roy Schneider approached the Port Authority about expanding Crown Bay facilities years ago.
"Not at any time did [Thomas] talk about any objections to Crown Bay," Finch said, adding, "The cruise lines want Crown Bay developed so badly they’ve become part of the bidding process."
Thomas, speaking to a business group on St. Thomas Wednesday, cited what he considers would be drawbacks to the visitor experience on St. Thomas if the Port Authority were to open a new shopping district at Crown Bay in addition to those in Charlotte Amalie and Havensight. Essentially, he said St. Thomas does not need any more tourism-oriented retail outlets. He said a better idea would be for the Port Authority to invest its $9 million earmarked for the Crown Bay project in a cruise ship homeport on St. Croix.
Finch noted that new retail space adjacent to the Crown Bay facility would compete with the Havensight Mall and said he questioned Thomas's motives in opposing the plans. WICO operates Havensight Mall for the Government Employees Retirement System, which owns it.
Finch also stressed that proceeding with the Crown Bay project doesn't mean abandoning the idea of constructing a homeport facility on St. Croix. He said the issue isn’t St. Croix versus St. Thomas. The Port Authority "has always spoken about doing both," he said.
That idea was supported by the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, whose president, John deJongh Jr., co-chaired the Cruise Ship Task Force.
The chamber views the proposed development at Crown Bay not as a an island-versus-island issue, but as an example of providing necessary infrastructure for visitors while at the same time leveraging private-sector funds to further economic development, deJongh said in a statement.
"In our many meetings with the Task Force it has always been clear that some development would be needed to accommodate disembarking cruise ship passengers," deJongh said, "but task force members agreed that another shopping mall was not the answer." He added, however, that it was always considered important that any development serve as a reception area for the cruise passengers and incorporate the marketing and promotion of the territory and locally made products.
He said the chamber agrees that homeporting on St. Croix should be pursued because it would serve the best interests of the entire territory. Like Finch, however, he said airlift, ground transportation and hotel issues on St. Croix must be addressed before the homeporting efforts are undertaken.
Finch said the F-CCA recommended against developing a homeporting facility on St. Croix for now, mainly because of the infrastructure shortcomings. He said Holland America Cruise Lines looked into the idea three years ago, but the bottom line was that the Ann A. Abramson Pier in Frederiksted wasn’t large enough to accommodate both ships calling at the port and ships using the pier as a homeport.
Finch said that is not the the biggest obstacle, however; St. Croix's lack of airline arrivals is. "St. Croix has no scheduled air service of a significant quantity," he said. "Unless we get significant airlift ... it can’t be used for homeporting."
Jean P. Greaux Jr. contributed to this report.