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Big Island Sports Complex Could Be Moneymaker, Tourist Draw

V.I. Olympic Committee President Hans Lawaetz underscored the need for a new sports facility on St. Croix.Building a new sports complex at Frederiksted’s Paul E. Joseph Stadium would help local athletes excel while bringing revenue into the territory, sports advocates and community activists told a senate panel Monday.

Sen. Alvin Williams, chair of the Human Services, Recreation and Sports Committee, called the hearing to look into the state of sports programs and sports facilities across the territory.

Nearly everyone who testified—officials from the V.I. Olympic Committee to Elmo Plaskett Little League—emphasized they needed more funding generally and better sports facilities of all kinds, from baseball fields to swimming pools.

Tentative plans for a sports complex at that site have been floating around for many years. In his state of the territory address in January, Gov. John deJongh Jr. proposed borrowing capital to build it, on the rationale that it would ultimately generate revenue.

In March, however, the Senate voted to divert $2.3 million in borrowed capital funding earmarked for Paul E. Joseph Stadium to the the V.I. Housing Finance Authority instead for a multipurpose indoor complex in Estate Stoney Ground.

Daniel Dascher, president of the St. Croix Swimming Association, said his organization trains many children and adults to swim on St. Croix every year and that the group’s members have competed at a high level nationally, regionally and worldwide.

And every year, up to 30 or so swimmers come to St. Croix to train in the winter, bringing in revenues to hotels, restaurants and grocery stores.

But the 40-year old pool they use belongs to St. Croix Country Day School, so they can only use it when Country Day is not. Also, it does not have enough lanes for international competition, he said.

A larger, dedicated facility would allow them to expand the number of visiting teams practicing on St. Croix and make it possible for more teams to attend its annual invitational swim meet. A larger pool would also enable St. Croix to host Caribbean-wide and international swim meets, such as CARIFTA, too, he said.

"The lack of a dedicated swim facility along with the age of the current facility presents a challenge," Dascher said, encouraging the Senate to do whatever is necessary to bring about the new sports complex.

Hans Lawaetz, president of the V.I. Olympic Committee, agreed a new facility that met international competitive standards for several sports had the potential to bring in more revenue while at the same time giving V.I. athletes a leg up on their training.

“The V.I. sports federations are eligible and do attend many regional international qualifying or championship competitions, when funds are available," Lawaetz said. "The Virgin Islands are eligible to host some of the same competitions if sanctioned facilities were available."

In a letter, Alphonso Franklin of the civic group Our Town Frederiksted, said much the same.

“Paul E. Joseph Stadium is of major importance to Frederiksted,” said Franklin, urging the Senate to restore the bond funding it reappropriated from the stadium to a proposed multi-use center in Estate Stony Ground.

Other testifiers, from the V.I. Softball Federation to the V.I. Soccer Federation, spoke broadly about their need for more funding, more equipment and better facilities, across the territory.

Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams highlighted the work his department has done to resurface tennis and basketball courts and to fix up parks and ball fields across the territory.

No votes were taken at the information gathering hearing.

Present were Williams, Sens. Ronald Russel, Terrence "Positive" Nelson, Sammuel Sanes and Craig Barshinger. Absent were Sens. Patrick Sprauve and Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly.

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