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Advancing Affordable Housing in the USVI: Developers Receive Specialized Training

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The drive for more affordable housing in the U.S. Virgin Islands gained momentum this week with a specialized training session for current and aspiring developers, marking the second initiative under the territory’s Housing Ecosystem Development Grant Program. The event, orchestrated by Enterprise Community Partners and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York (FHLBNY), unfolded at the scenic Emerald Beach resort on St. Thomas.

This educational workshop, dubbed “Financing Affordable Housing Development in the Virgin Islands,” aimed to fortify the affordable housing sector by offering insights into both federal and local funding avenues. It attracted a diverse group of participants, including the pioneering grantees from the program’s first roundtable in August 2023, alongside representatives from key organizations vested in enhancing the territory’s housing landscape.

Jelani Newton, Enterprise Community Partners’ senior director, emphasized the workshop’s goal to empower local developers with the tools and knowledge needed to advance in the affordable housing arena. “Increasing the development of affordable homes is central to our mission,” Newton stated, highlighting the workshop’s role in bolstering local efforts through technical support and valuable information resources.

Peter Grof, a community investment officer at FHLBNY, pointed out the critical need for stable, affordable housing as a cornerstone for personal and community growth. The collaboration between Enterprise and FHLBNY seeks to address the Virgin Islands’ acute housing affordability crisis by fostering a more vibrant and inclusive housing sector.

The government of the U.S. Virgin Islands has traditionally spearheaded affordable housing initiatives. However, there is a growing recognition of the vital role that private sector engagement in housing and community development can play in meeting the substantial demand for affordable living spaces.

Last year, three organizations—one from each island—were awarded $100,000 grants to fuel their efforts in expanding affordable housing options for residents. These recipients, St. Croix Foundation for Community Development Inc., WMWilliams & Partners, Inc., and Adrian Realty LLC, were among the attendees at the recent training, alongside other interested parties from the development sphere.

This concerted push towards increasing affordable housing availability not only underscores the importance of cross-sector collaboration but also highlights the commitment of various stakeholders in making the Virgin Islands a more inclusive and equitable place to live.

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Development

Blackbeard’s Castle Renovation: Owner’s Admission Highlights Oversight Challenges in USVI

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In a revealing exchange during the latest St. Thomas/St. John Historical Preservation Committee meeting, frustrations bubbled to the surface over the cavalier attitude exhibited by the team renovating Blackbeard’s Castle, a landmark fraught with historical significance. Property owner Steve Sigler was in the hot seat, requesting retroactive approval for a series of alterations already completed without prior consent, including a new roof and an ADA-compliant ramp.

Sigler openly acknowledged his misjudgment, revealing he had been under the impression that the Virgin Islands’ regulatory environment was more forgiving. “I was misled to believe that oversight was minimal here, leading me to proceed with changes without the necessary approvals,” he conceded, stressing his realization of the committee’s diligence.

This incident is not the committee’s first encounter with projects advancing without the requisite permissions. Committee Chair Akil Peterson expressed a repeated concern over such practices, highlighting a pattern of disregard for the established approval process.

The situation took a turn when Sigler likened his predicament to that of a character from popular culture, ensnared in a web of island-life challenges, stressing the financial stakes involved in the renovation project. His candid admission of having been swayed by informal assurances rather than seeking formal permissions sparked a stern rebuke from Peterson, who lamented the wasted efforts in facilitating a smoother process for Sigler’s project.

The dialogue further unveiled that Sigler was not fully informed about the property’s historical significance and regulatory requirements. He expressed regret over his assumptions regarding aesthetic changes and pledged to align more closely with the committee’s guidance moving forward.

Committee member Enrique Rodriguez voiced disappointment upon discovering unapproved windows already on the property, a move that exemplified the recurring theme of preemptive action without official sanction. The committee was firm in its stance of preserving the integrity of historical sites while acknowledging the economic potential of such endeavors.

In an effort to rectify the situation, the committee suggested halting further work until a comprehensive strategy was formulated, emphasizing the importance of a collaborative approach to ensure both preservation and progress. Acknowledging Sigler’s openness about his mistakes, the committee expressed a willingness to work closely with him, contingent on strict adherence to preservation laws and proper communication channels.

The meeting concluded with conditional approvals for some of the completed work, underscoring the committee’s commitment to balancing historical integrity with developmental aspirations. The episode serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of adherence to regulatory frameworks, especially in contexts rich with cultural and historical heritage.

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Progressive Developments in USVI’s Maritime and Aviation Sectors Unveiled by Port Authority Board

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) Board has recently announced a series of significant advancements in its maritime and aviation operations. The authority is taking bold strides to enhance and expand its services, reflecting a commitment to fostering growth and efficiency in these critical sectors.

In a move to boost the capacity and capabilities of the marine division, VIPA’s board has greenlighted negotiations to expand Priority Road Services’ lease at the Wilfred “Bomba” Allick Port and Transshipment Center on St. Thomas. This expansion will add over 100,000 square feet to their current operations, allowing for an increase in non-exclusive shipping services and providing much-needed space for hazardous materials storage.

Furthermore, VIPA has renewed its lease agreement with Aquatic Car Rentals for counter space at the Urman Victor Fredericks Marine Terminal in Red Hook, St. Thomas. This three-year lease, with an option for a two-year extension, ensures Aquatic Car Rentals can continue to offer crucial ferry ticketing services that facilitate travel between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

The aviation sector is also seeing significant developments, with the board approving a comprehensive proposal from Stantec. This engineering consultancy will undertake airfield surveys, design, and procurement documentation for a critical FAA-mandated airfield marking project at Henry E. Rohlsen Airport. This initiative, set to commence in April, is crucial for enhancing safety and operational efficiency.

Additionally, a master service agreement with Michael Baker International will bring expert construction cost estimating and technical review services to VIPA on a task order basis. This three-year agreement, extendable for two additional one-year periods, is poised to streamline project management and ensure fiscal responsibility across VIPA’s endeavors.

In an effort to preserve the territory’s rich cultural heritage, the board has also approved funds exceeding $149,000 for the relocation of a historic shipwreck in Charlotte Amalie Harbor. This initiative, essential for the upcoming dredging project, underscores VIPA’s dedication to environmental stewardship and compliance with regulatory requirements for obtaining necessary permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Further enhancing infrastructure, the board has authorized additional electrical and drainage improvements at the St. Croix Passenger Transportation Center and its adjoining parking garage. These upgrades are part of VIPA’s ongoing commitment to providing top-tier facilities for residents and visitors alike.

These initiatives, spearheaded by the diligent efforts of the V.I. Port Authority’s Governing Board, mark a significant leap forward in strengthening the territory’s maritime and aviation infrastructure. Through strategic investments and partnerships, VIPA is setting the stage for a future of enhanced connectivity, safety, and service excellence in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Progress in the Virgin Islands Airport Public/Private Partnership Initiative

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The Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA) has made a significant stride in its ambitious Airports Public/Private Partnership (P3) Project by receiving several compliant bids in response to its call for proposals. This project targets the enhancement and modernization of the territory’s key air gateways: the Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix.

VIPA announced that its dedicated internal committee is poised to embark on a detailed analysis of the proposals over the coming weeks. This meticulous review will culminate in the selection of a preferred bidder, who will then be presented to the VIPA Board of Governors for approval. During this crucial phase, VIPA has opted to maintain confidentiality, refraining from public comments.

The authority has secured the expertise of a cadre of advisory firms to support the P3 project. Frasca & Associates LLC will serve as the financial advisor, Mayer Brown LLP alongside local counsels Jennifer Jones and Trudy Fenster will offer legal guidance, The Paslay Group will act as the technical advisor, and the Public Strategy Group will manage communications.

Reflecting on a landmark achievement on April 19, 2023, VIPA’s Board of Governors identified four finalists—daa International, Vantage Airport Group Ltd., Vinci Airports, and VIports Partners—from an original group of eight candidates. These selections were made based on a set of stringent evaluation criteria, identifying firms with the capacity to spearhead airport terminal development, operations, and investment.

The firm ultimately chosen will undertake the financing of infrastructure, terminal redevelopment, and the management of airport operations, all while harnessing private capital and avoiding additional capital debt for VIPA or the Virgin Islands government. Under the stewardship of Executive Director Carlton Dowe, VIPA will maintain ownership and oversight of the airports, continuing to qualify for Federal Aviation Administration grants.

Dowe has articulated the project’s synchrony with the economic, travel, and tourism objectives of the region, anticipating the initiation of redevelopment activities between the final quarter of 2024 and early 2025.

Governor Albert Bryan has commended the forward movement of the P3 agreement process as crucial for elevating the territory’s airport facilities to continental U.S. standards. He underscored the initiative’s role in enriching the tourism experience and streamlining travel for both visitors and residents alike.

For comprehensive information about the Airports P3 Project and ongoing updates, the public is invited to visit the project’s dedicated website at www.vipaairportsp3.com.

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