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March 18, 2018

Sports Groups Make Their Case for Better V.I. Facilities

While V.I. sports organizations for basketball, volleyball and everything in between are struggling mightily thanks to the poor economy and tight government budget, better facilities would bring more revenue and help some clubs to become self-sustaining, sporting officials told a Senate panel Wednesday.

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. On Monday the committee met with St. Croix sports groups and on Wednesday with groups on St. Thomas and St. John.

With top-ranking runners like Tabarie Henry, Laverne Jones-Ferrette and others, the territory has more than its share of elite track and field athletes for a place of its size, said Wallace Williams of the V.I. Track and Field Federation. "Countries with huge populations, including China among others, do not have the level of sprinters and jumpers that the V.I. has," Williams said.

Despite such success, funding is a constant challenge and facilities are inadequate, with only two tracks in the territory, both in poor condition and neither certified for International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) competition, he said. Financially, "the huge cost associated with travel presents one of the greatest challenges that the program faces," he said.

A certified track facility would allow major professional and amateur events to take place in the territory, bringing in sports tourism revenue to businesses and the government, Williams said.

Joey Hamilton of the St. Thomas Swimming Association made a similar pitch, saying his organization could become self-sufficient and even generate revenue if it had a proper 50-meter pool, six-feet deep with 10 lanes.

Right now, the association turns away requests from stateside swim teams to come train on St. Thomas in the winter, he said. A one-week training trip should bring in about $25,000, and with 10 lanes, they would be able to bring in six teams at a time, for up to $150,000 per week during the peak winter season, he said. International meets could also be held in the territory, bringing in revenue to the STSA and sports tourism dollars for St. Thomas, he said.

Sen. Craig Barshinger asked whether a 50-meter pool would pay for itself in five years. Hamilton estimated the pool would cost close to $1 million, and if they could get three major events a year, they could generate "close to $1.5 million," he said.

Wystan Benjamin, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Horse Owners Association, testified that horse racing on St. Thomas would also do better with better facilities. Benjamin asked the Senate to consider amending last year’s law allowing slot machines at racetracks to direct some of the money to track, spectator and clubhouse facilities at St. Thomas’ Clinton Phipps racetrack.

With government finances projected to reach a crisis point later this summer, no new funding was on the table at Wednesday’s hearing.

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

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