Nov. 25, 2007 — Amid dozens of restored, brightly painted and well-maintained historic buildings in Christiansted, others are practically ruins, eyesores in what is otherwise one of the prettiest towns in the Caribbean.
Some buildings are so overgrown, trees grow in them. Business owners complain others attract drug dealers. Nearly all of them are strewn with trash.
Some say the approval process for renovations in a historic area is onerous and time-consuming; things as simple as shutter hinges must meet Department of the Interior standards. But those who own these derelict properties — at least those few who responded to inquiries from the Source — are tight-lipped about why these buildings have languished. In the second of two parts, the Source uncovered St. Croix building owners to find out what their plans were, if any, for these ravaged, unsightly structures. (See "Improper Property, Part One: Frederiksted.")
When Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis was St. Croix administrator, he directed the fire department to issue citations to the owners of rundown buildings on Market Street. According to current St. Croix Administrator Pedro Encarnacion, citations are still being issued. But they appear to have had little effect.
St. Thomas attorney George Dudley owns a large cement structure at 26 Company St. with trees growing through two stories towards sunlight coming through holes in a rusted, corrugated tin roof.
The building, kitty-corner to the renovated theater on Sunday Market Square, has open galleries partly painted a light blue. Original Danish brick shows through the crumbling and cracked cement plaster that has retained water and caused decay.
The building is right across the street from the Lighthouse Mission soup kitchen, and attracts people of questionable character to the corner.
During the dedication of the Sunday Market Square renovation in February 2005, the Dudley family made a public promise to restore their building. Nothing has changed since then, and the dilapidated building sits abandoned.
Dudley told the Source that applications have been approved, but he blamed other issues for the delay — issues he declined to discuss.
In a Source interview, Gerville Larsen and Rupert Pelle, the historical architect and engineer chairman, respectively, for the Historic Preservation Committee, said the building needed to be renovated with a historically correct hip roof.
Alex Moorhead, vice president of Hovensa, owns the property on the corner of Company and Market Street, a two-story, gray, weather-beaten and decaying wooden building with broken shutters and boarded windows. The galleries of the 39 Company Street structure are intact and painted but dingy, and the bleak-looking doors off the gallery are boarded up.
When the Source called Moorhead about his plans for the building, he refused to comment.
What looks like tumbledown stone ruins at the corner of King and Market Street is a building Larsen and Pelle said could be restored to its original design. Originally, the building at 21 King St. was a typical galleried West Indian two-story structure with a wooden second story. Now it's a catch-all for beer bottles and trash, and the interior is nothing but weeds.
The building is owned by Samuel Ebbesen, former senior vice president of Innovative Communication Corp. Calls to Ebbesen asking about his plans for the building were not returned.
It appears the only purpose for the building now is to hold an approximately four-foot-by-eight-foot sign promoting the Boys and Girls Club.
Another derelict and abandoned building at 40 King St. has galleries intact, but the roof covering them has completely fallen apart. The galleries have peeling paint over crumbling plaster and red brick. The door is boarded up with scrap lumber, and the sidewalk is littered with pieces of debris from the roof.
The owner listed in the recorder's office is Rodrigo A. Vera of Delray Beach, Fla. A phone call to Vera from the Source was not returned.
For at least one structure, plans are actually afoot for renovation.
At 15 Company St. sits a little building boarded up with plywood, with red painted brick walls and a conch shell border. In its past life, it was a bar that was opened and closed numerous times over the years. According to Lee Seward, a buyer's agent at Alternative Real Estate, the owners have preliminary drawings at the office of the Department of Natural Resources. The owners, Massive Productions LLC, are waiting for the OK to add a second story for office space and to use the bottom floor for entertainment purposes.
The recorder's office lists the owners of six other derelict properties. Four of those listed didn't respond to phone calls from the Source; one denied that he owned the building in question; and another responded that the property had belonged to an uncle who sold it some 15 years ago, though it was not recorded as sold.
Nearly all of Christiansted is in either the Christiansted National Historic District or the Historic and Architectural Control District, both controlled by the Historic Preservation Committee under the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
If changes or renovations are proposed for buildings in the Historic and Architectural District, owners may apply for up to 18 different types of changes that will go to the commission for approval.
"Controls and restrictions are scientific and good for buildings and people," Larsen said. There are federal tax credits available for those who go through certification of renovation at the State Historical Preservation office, he said.
Pelle added they always try to work with applicants in a timely manner.
During a recent walk through the area, William Taylor, an architect and historic preservationist who has worked on St. Croix for 25 years, noted, "There are a number of families and people who deserve credit and who take certain pride in ownership.
"Many people maintain their property, being careful to keep the character and texture of the building," Joe's Tailoring on Company Street is one example, he said.
For the most part, Company and King Street are in decent shape. The results of programs such as the Scrape, Paint and Rejuvenate, sponsored by the St. Croix Foundation, are evident. In 2001, the foundation launched the program, which seeks to identify selected commercial and residential properties in need of paint and minor repairs. The program also aims to eliminate trash-infested areas through abandoned lot cleaning.
Funded by a grant from the St. Croix Anti-Litter and Beautification Commission of St. Croix, the program offered grants to property owners in Christiansted to partially cover painting and minor repair costs, according to the foundation's website.
"In the past seven years we have painted 80 buildings on St. Croix," said Stennette Dariah, program coordinator.
Foundation Executive Director Roger Dewey added, "We would like to see this town totally polished."
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