Nov. 6, 2004 Frederiksted merchants experiencing a downturn in business because of construction work associated with the Frederiksted Renovation Project sought relief from the Public Finance Authority and the project contractor, Coastal Systems Management.
Merchants on Strand Street, which has been blocked off to vehicular traffic months before schedule, are facing a bleak season because shoppers cannot access waterfront businesses. On Thursday disgruntled business owners met with government officials and developers to find relief. A compromise was reached which just may save the businesses from shutting down.
Laura and Chris Hunter, owners of Scuba West, distributed flyers early in the week urging neighboring businesses to "Take a Stand for Strand Street" and attend the meeting. The topic of discussion was compensation for Frederiksted businesses due to lack of access and long-term inconvenience. (See "Frederiksted Gets Parking Restricted, Traffic Detoured").
Over 70 merchants, vendors and supporters attended. The Hunters also invited representatives of Coastal Systems Development, V.I. Public Finance Authority, V.I. Port Authority, V.I. Police Department, Frederiksted Economic Development Association and Our Town Frederiksted.
According to the developers Strand Street was completely closed to vehicular traffic last month to "expedite the project." But merchants said closing the road could be the death knell of their businesses.
"Business have lost 35 to 50 percent of projected profits since the construction began," Hunter said. "Merchants are torn between seeing the project completed and making the money to sustain themselves through the season."
"This is our busy season," said one of the merchants. "If we don't make it now, we may have to close our doors."
Merchants also reacted to the news of cruse ships bunkering in Frederiksted. One merchant remarked, "We haven't had ships for over a year, and now, when our 'front porch' is torn up, we get ships." Several business owners said the passengers would be taken "straight to Christiansted." (For more reactions see "Royal Caribbean Cruise Ships To Bunker On St. Croix").
Officials were also asked if the project would be completed in time for the Crucian Christmas Festival. "I don't see Strand Street to be open during festival," Kenneth Mapp, PFA executive director, said.
The festival village and parade were originally scheduled to be in Christiansted this year, but because of the construction of a new recreational facility in the D.C. Canegata ballpark which, Festival organizers, say reduces the space available for vendors, booths and carnival rides, the festival village and parade will be held in Frederiksted. (For the full story, see "Crucian Christmas Festival to Relocate to Frederiksted").
Local attorney Lee Rohn, who attended the meeting, said the merchants had cause to pursue litigation. Rohn said the road closure amounts to a "partial takeover" of the affected businesses. "The fence was erected without notice to businesses, the PFA and Coastal Systems are responsible," she said. Rohn asked businesses to document the differences in their profits between last year and this year. Rohn said she would "present the damages" to the proper officials and "come to an agreement."
After some discussion, Mapp ordered the partial re-opening of the road to give relief to struggling businesses. He said the contractor would gravel the road to allow motorists to drive south on the waterfront street. In addition, a 10-week marketing campaign, led by Brian Squires of Austin Advertising, a St. Thomas company, would assist waterfront businesses to recoup some losses.
Two Frederiksted EDC companies also came to the rescue. Gary Surdyke, CEO of Mega Management, and Robert Newell director of Bridge Capital, pledged $1,000 each to the business marketing campaign.
The waterfront renovation is being completed by Coastal Systems International of Miami, which is closely associated with major cruise lines, and which administered Miami Beach improvements after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992. Coastal Systems, in conjunction with Paradigm Design of St. Thomas, is doing the initial design work for all of the projects; local contractors will do the construction. (See "PFA board Commits to Funding St. Croix projects").
Mapp said the project specification had been altered to allow the burying of electrical cables, and this will cause some delays in the work. "There is a change order to put utility cables fully underground. There will be no poles on the Frederiksted waterfront," Mapp said.
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