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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 15, 2024


June 13, 2001 – Despite having the full support of the V.I. Port Authority planning staff, Paradigm Design's plan to beautify the waterfront apron was rejected by the VIPA board Wednesday. Instead the board awarded the contract to Yssis Group.
The plan was part of a design competition launched last summer that Paradigm won out of five local firms to rehabilitate the pockmarked, patchwork apron that now greets visitors to the Charlotte Amalie Harbor.
After winning the competition, Torgen Johnson, Paradigm president, said he asked Chaneel Callwood of Yssis Design Group to team up with his office to help put the project together. "I had seen Chaneel at a highway workshop where she was very outspoken against the plan for a waterfront highway," Johnson said Wednesday. He told the board he was "very impressed with Callwood's integrity." Callwood agreed and teamed up with Johnson's office.
The two groups worked together until this spring when they had a parting of the ways, creating the two presentations Wednesday.
In introducing the plans, VIPA Director Gordon Finch said, "Paradigm was successful in winning the competition, but unfortunately (after teaming up with Yssis) the two groups had a disagreement in principle, and it is up to us now to decide to whom we should give the contract."
In April the VIPA staff voted for the Paradigm design. However, VIPA's board voted Wednesday 5-1 for Yssis Group.
The remarkably similar design presentations lined either side of the large board room. Each side was given time for a presentation, with the other side waiting outside the room.
Johnson noted that in the past 50 years, the "urban fabric of Charlotte Amalie has become separate from the waterfront," a separation he wants to mend.
Johnson said he sees the waterfront as a linear park eventually extending from Frenchtown to the West Indian Co. He described how the color of the bricks of Fort Christian would be integrated in the waterfront walkways, thus stretching the Fort all along the waterfront with vital crosswalks, "oases," connecting town with the waterfront. The apron would be dotted with tall palms, planters, benches, shade pavilions and a revitalization of what was once a boathouse at Kings Wharf, commonly known as the Coast Guard Dock.
Paradigm designed the new Coral World, where Johnson said he got his feet wet encountering problems unique to the island. After Coral World, Paradigm renovated Emancipation Garden, and is currently completing Post Office Square.
Callwood and John Daniels of Yssis showed their design as essentially the same idea as Paradigm's. Callwood stressed "recapturing the character of the old waterfront" and said she wanted to restore "dignity" to the waterfront. Both sides' presentations included slides of the old waterfront dating back to the 1900s.
Yssis has a nine-year history, Daniels said. The firm is completing the new gymnasium and cafeteria at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School. It is also responsible for Café Amici in Riise's Alley and a large housing project in Fortuna.
When asked by board members about the group's falling out with Yssis, Johnson explained that he had shared his digital files of his own drawings with Yssis. "That's a fingerprint there," he said, indicating Yssis's presentation.
Johnson later said Yssis was asked to collaborate on project management and to organize the public participation process. "They did not contribute to the design; that was not their role," he said.
Johnson had nothing but the highest praise for VIPA's staff. "Coming forward with that competition was a miracle," he said.
Losing the bid was a blow, he added. "We've worked tirelessly since last May. We've worked around the clock at times, passionately, trying to do something for St. Thomas." But he was philosophical: "We're trying to get good things done for St. Thomas, and we'll continue."
In attendance and voting for the Yssis design were chairwoman Pamela Richards; Attorney General Iver Stridiron; Dean Plaskett, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources; Hector Peguero; Kent Bernier; and Leslie A. Milliner. The sole vote for Paradigm came from former Sen. Robert O'Connor Jr., who said he was impressed with Paradigm's presentation and the work the group did at the new Coral World.
Earlier in the day, when questioned about Bernier's position on the board — he was appointed as a private-sector member but is now a government official — Stridiron said he needed to look into the legality of the matter. It was never mentioned it at the board meeting.

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