While celebrating the grand opening of the Captain Morgan’s Rum distillery on St. Croix, Diageo CEO Paul Walsh announced a new investment on the island – a $5 million visitor center that will open at the site by January 2012.
When Walsh made the announcement during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, he was greeted by sustained applause from the audience of some 200.
"The center will help demonstrate that this distillery is more than just a production site. It is truly the whole of Captain Morgan," Walsh said. "Preliminary plans promise that it will be a fitting home for such a dynamic brand."
He said the company will rely primarily on local labor and resources to build what he called "a spectacular tourist attraction for not just St. Croix or the U.S.V.I., but for the entire Caribbean basin."
Dan Kirby, who as vice president of Diageo USVI headed up the project since before the first shovel went into the ground, said the visitor center would include tours of the plant, a history of rum, and a place to purchase T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs with the Captain Morgan’s brand, and of course, rum.
Gov. John deJongh said the decision to build the visitor center illustrates that Diageo has come to know the St. Croix community.
"What they’re trying to do is build their plant, but at the same time we’ve said one of the things we want to do is be able to have attractions for our visitors to come here. Whether they’re on a cruise line for a day or a hotel guest, give them part of the St. Croix experience," the governor said.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony put a piratical twist on a normally cliched event, only fitting for a plant that will produce a rum named for a legendary buccaneer.
This event did not involve scissors – or even a giant pair of scissors as are sometimes used – to cut a ribbon. The guests walked out to where a red cloth easily 18 feet across, maybe more, was stretched across the pathway. Then the dignitaries – Walsh, deJongh, Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis and Diageo VP of Global Procurement and Supply David Gosnell were handed swords.
At that moment an amplifieded voice broke into the proceedings. It was Diageo’s Captain Henry Morgan, a boisterous young man who knows how to handle a crowd, traveling the country promoting responsible drinking – of the rum named for him.
He was at the top of the distillery superstructure saying there was one thing the plant was missing. Aided by the countdown from the crowd, which maintained its spirits despite a sudden shower of rain, he unfurled a Captain Morgan’s banner. And unfurled it and unfurled it, fighting the wind.
Finally he paused and said, "Who built this thing? It’s huge!" But soon the banner was flapping in the wind, and Captain Morgan dashed down to take his place. Once another countdown from the crowd began, Morgan swung his sword and cut the giant ribbon.
Then he led the island and corporate officials in striking the famous "Captain Morgan pose," left foot up as if resting on a treasure chest, right hand on hip.
The Diageo distillery has the capacity to produce 20 million proof gallons of rum a year and is expected to bring a least $136 million a year in rum cover-over revenue to the V.I. government during the 30-year term of the agreement, which brought the company to the island.
The plant, which took about 17 months from ground breaking to ribbon cutting, was built primarily with local labor, contractors and suppliers. About 300,000 hours of labor went into its construction, according to the company.
As rum is produced at the distillery it will be pumped into oak barrels that will be stored in the warehouse built east of the plant. The warehouse can accommodate 200,000 barrels at a time. When it has aged a year, it will be pumped into containers and shipped to a plant in Maryland where it be readied for distribution.