Oct. 13, 2003 – The physical work has yet to begin, but the barren and neglected face of the Charlotte Amalie waterfront has just taken a giant step toward becoming an aesthetically pleasing asset to the community.
The St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee approved the Port Authority's master plan to improve the waterfront esplanade last week, although not without conditions. Plans for the project have been around for more than three years, dating from a design competition in May 2000.
The plan is to make the waterfront apron, as the primary access to the harbor both physically and visually, more attractive while also improving safety. The area to be affected lies between the Edward Wilmoth Blyden Ferry Terminal and the U.S. Coast Guard dock adjacent to the Legislature Building.
The revitalized waterfront will greet visitors with brick crosswalks designed to increase pedestrian safety, palm trees, flowers, shaded pavilions, improved lighting, rest areas and a reconstruction of the onetime boathouse at Kings Wharf, commonly known today as the Coast Guard dock.
The CZM Committee approval rests on three conditions:
– VIPA must submit updated environmental plans with each phase of the project.
– VIPA must enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Public Works Department about landside improvements, including the crosswalks, traffic signals, landscaping and lighting along Veterans Drive.
– The final design must incorporate the use of native Virgin Islands palm trees.
At a Jan. 29 VIPA board meeting, Darlan Brin, executive director, said the project would be funded and developed in stages and should ultimately cost between $4 million and $5 million. He said the Public Finance Authority had set aside $2.5 million in bonds for the undertaking and that the balance would be funded through marine projects and port fees. "We will develop it in phases," he said then, and "won't be spending $4 million all at one time.
Brin and VIPA board members had praised the project as revenue enhancing in that it would bring more luxury yachts to the St. Thomas harbor, known as one of the finest in the Caribbean. "This will be a good project for us in the long run," Brin said. (See "Hearings to come on waterfront upgrade plans".)
According to an Oct. 10 release, the Port Authority has money budgeted for the design phases of the project, but construction funding has not been identified. The release said VIPA has not set a date for work to commence. The construction funding and project startup date depend on completion of the detailed design plans and their approval by the CZM Committee.
The release stated that the next phase of the project is developing a detailed design plan which will address such specifics as types, colors and designs of the materials to be used. VIPA hired Yssis Group, a local architecture firm, as design contractor for the project. The company is to work closely with the St. Thomas-St. John Committee of the Historic Preservation Commission, which must approve architectural designs for structures within designated historic districts.
The plan now to utilize local palm trees represents a change from the initial plan, which had called for imported date palms. Torgen Johnson, president of Paradigm Design, another local architectural design firm, charged at the January VIPA board meeting that the Yssis plan had serious "technical and design problems." He said the way the palm trees were laid out on the north side of Veterans Drive would create a "tunnel" effect and not shade people on the promenade as intended. He also said the imported date palms would not survive more than two years in the current planting environment along the waterfront.
According to Johnson, his criticisms were not a case of "sour grapes" as a result of his company having lost its bid for the waterfront design contract "My office is downtown, and I use the waterfront environment every day," he said then. "It matters to me." (See "Paradigm loses Competition to Yssis".)
Brin said at the January board meeting that there would be a series of public hearings starting in February where taxi drivers and other motorists, downtown merchants and anyone else with an interest in the project could raise issues and voice concerns about the project. The only such hearing held so far, on Feb. 26 at the VIPA board room, was attended by about a hundred people.
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