Dec. 13, 2003 When the cruise ships pull out of the harbor Tuesday night, those on board will see almost as many lights on the waterfront as on their ships. Well, not quite, but the waterfront will be festively lit for Downtown Destination Nite, a new event designed to help revive Charlotte Amalie nightlife.
After the last Main Street shop closes its doors at 5 p.m., St. Thomas' once vibrant downtown area languishes.
Three area business people have decided to do something dynamic to bring both residents and tourists to Charlotte Amalie at night, taking advantage of Tuesday nights when the cruise ships stay late in port.
Early this summer Jim Armour and Maria Ferreras of Armour Enterprises teamed up with Tavern on the Waterfront manager Ken Chappa in order to set their strategy.
Chappa doesn't have the extensive St. Thomas background of his two partners, but he has more than enough energy and enthusiasm to make up for that. "This is going to be so great," he says. "People are going to love it."
And from the looks of things, Chappa is probably right. Everything to make Downtown Destination Nite a success is already in place. The trio have secured live music, cooperation from the hotels, the endorsement of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel Association, and the participation of a number of downtown retailers and restaurateurs. They've also found three sponsors for the event: Bellows International, Armour Enterprises, and Topa Insurance.
Ferreras was one of the original forces behind Miracle on Main Street, and 10 years later, is still one of the event's mainstays. Her knowledge and expertise have been invaluable in helping to make the new event a reality. "We're going into this step by step," she says.
Once the three get talking about their project, the words can't tumble out fast enough. Armour was almost in awe at the response he got from the V.I. Police Department. "I called to find out what we should do about security," Armour says, "and within ten minutes Novelle Francis (the territorial police chief) was on the phone. He said, 'anything we can do to help, we'll do.'"
The group's approach is two pronged. First they want to get residents to reclaim the downtown area as their own. "People who can't shop in the daytime, even people who work downtown, will have an opportunity to shop and to eat," Chappa said. "I've had downtown retail employees complain that they never get time to do any relaxed shopping; they say they're a nine-to-five captive audience."
To lure tourists from the hotels, the group has worked closely with the concierges, who are enthusiastic about getting their guests out to see the downtown at night. They have worked out an arrangement with the taxi associations to return guests to their hotels at what Armour calls, "a very low fare."
The group's blue-and-gold fliers, featuring a smiling half-moon encircled in gold, have been placed in all the hotel lobbies. On the back of the flier is a coupon for a discounted taxi ride back to the hotel.
Years ago downtown was the place to be, with crowded clubs spilling over with locals having a wonderful time. There was Katie's in Market Square, the Brittany (later L'escargot) off Main Street, and Sparky's on the waterfront. But that was then; in the intervening years, crime has unfortunately permeated the downtown district.
Though the crime rate has lowered appreciably, the nighttime crowds have moved to local neighborhoods, and the downtown has consequently suffered.
"But, that doesn't have to be," Chappa says. "We will have excellent security — both our own and the police — and people can see how great our restaurants are."
And that's to say nothing of the entertainment lineup. There will be dancing and music with Imaginations Brass in front of Palm Passage, where103.5-FM will be doing a series of live remotes with Roger Morgan. Handsome banners bearing the half-moon logo are already hanging at locations between Tommy Hilfiger and Pizza Hut, the area set aside for the festivities. The banners proclaim: "Downtown Destination Nite, 5 p.m. until … dining, shopping, entertainment, transportation."
The event's three originators are very optimistic that Tuesday night will be a success. "We hope to keep it going, even through the summer," says Ferreras. "Once people see how much fun it is, it can become a regular thing."
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