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Crown Bay’s $250 Million Revamp Announced by VIPA and Royal Caribbean, Eyeing Premier Tourist Destination Status

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In a grand reveal, the Virgin Islands Port Authority (VIPA), steered by the bold Executive Director Carlton Dowe, alongside Royal Caribbean Group and Cruise Terminals International (CTI), declared a $250 million blueprint on Wednesday to elevate Crown Bay, St. Thomas, into a premier tourist hub. The initiative, showcased against the backdrop of the world’s largest cruise ship, aims to enhance the region’s allure as a top-tier travel destination.

The ambitious project, shaped through rigorous negotiations among Mr. Dowe, RCG, and CTI, marks a lucrative pact for the U.S. Virgin Islands. VIPA’s contribution, constituting roughly 20% of the total budget (around $50 million), will be entirely recouped through a capital recovery fee levied on Royal Caribbean’s guests, as delineated by Joshua Carroll, RCG’s Vice President of Destination Development and Deployment.

Celebrating the venture, key executives from RCG and CTI journeyed to St. Thomas, underscoring the transformative essence of the endeavor. Carroll indicated that the revamp, encompassing a significant segment of Crown Bay, has been set in motion, with notable advancements expected to accelerate in 2025 and substantial segments slated for completion by 2028. The development envisages a day resort with a 1,000-visitor capacity, an expanded shore excursion dock, enhanced space and transportation facilities, alongside dedicated spots for local vendors, who, according to Carroll, will be integral to Crown Bay’s renewed landscape. He also assured that RCG will facilitate smooth interactions with the development entity for local enterprises showing interest.

The undertaking is designed to minimize operational disruptions, with existing vendors being temporarily shifted to a nearby site previously acquired by VIPA to support Crown Bay’s transformation. Mr. Dowe highlighted that despite the construction activities, a shutdown of Crown Bay isn’t anticipated. He drew a parallel with the ongoing $26.8 million Parking and Transportation Center project at Cyril E. King Airport, which is advancing without hampering regular operations, illustrating the modus operandi for Crown Bay’s metamorphosis.

Wednesday’s disclosure reflects another significant stride for Mr. Dowe, who, since his reinstatement as VIPA’s Executive Director in 2019, has spearheaded myriad major projects within the maritime and aviation domains under VIPA’s expansive umbrella. His notable achievements include the fruitful transition of cargo operations from Gallows Bay to Molasses Pier, courtesy of the $24 million Gallows Bay Marine Facility project, timely completion of the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport’s Terminal Expansion and Modernization Project, and the ongoing CEKA Parking and Transportation Center venture, among others.

Additionally, a Dowe-mediated accord with RCG has catalyzed a remarkable surge in cruise tourism on St. Croix, with the island witnessing a more than 100% boost in visitor numbers—escalating to 150,000 last year from a mere 40,000 the preceding year.

As the event concluded, VIPA board member and Public Works Commissioner Derek Gabriel lauded Mr. Dowe’s visionary leadership, emphasizing the imperative of a forward-looking approach for the governing board. He commended Mr. Dowe’s audacious visions, which initially seemed unattainable, but as dialogues with partners like Royal Caribbean and CTI unfolded, revealed a foundation grounded in reality and factual data. Gabriel stressed the significance of embracing calculated risks to continuously evolve and bolster the region’s tourism sector.

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Tourism

Security Upgrade Proposed for Havensight Mall with Peace Officer Status

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Security personnel at Havensight Mall may soon receive a significant boost in authority as Bill 35-0238, aimed at elevating their status to peace officers, has passed its initial legislative test. Sponsored by Senator Milton Potter, the bill specifically targets qualified enforcement officers from the Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) who are stationed at the mall.

Senator Potter highlighted the urgent need for enhanced security measures at Havensight, a prime destination for both locals and nearly a million tourists each year. He cited recent violent incidents, including a 2022 shooting during a robbery attempt and a fatal shooting in the parking lot in October 2023, as key drivers for the proposed security overhaul.

The bill advocates for peace officer training for these officers at the V.I. Police Academy, enabling them to respond to emergencies, enforce laws, and maintain order on the premises. Roy Moorehead, chief security officer of the mall, supports this move as a strategic step to strengthen the safety and security framework at Havensight Mall, enhancing its reputation as a secure venue and boosting local tourism and spending.

Support from GERS and the VIPD, including Assistant Commissioner Sidney Elskoe, underscores the initiative’s alignment with broader public safety goals. The financial impact on the government is minimal, as GERS plans to allocate Havensight Mall’s budget to train and increase the salaries of four to six officers.

During the legislative discussions, Senator Franklin Johnson reminded the GERS representatives of the extensive duties that come with peace officer status, applicable even beyond the mall’s boundaries. Senator Novelle Francis expressed support but cautioned about additional considerations such as insurance, retirement benefits, and training expenses.

Despite widespread legislative backing, Senator Kenneth Gittens opposed the bill, proposing instead to bolster the existing tourist-oriented police efforts by channeling funds directly to the V.I. Police Department and suggesting a merger between the V.I. Port Authority and the West Indian Company to enhance the police budget.

The bill now advances to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary, moving one step closer to potentially transforming the security landscape at Havensight Mall.

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Tourism

St. Thomas USVI Named Top Emerging Summer Destination by Expedia

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Expedia’s latest report has named St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, as the leading emerging destination for summer travel this year. The island has witnessed a significant 45 percent increase in search activity over the past year, attributed to enhanced air service from the mainland U.S. The allure of a Caribbean getaway that does not require a passport for U.S. tourists has boosted St. Thomas’s appeal.

Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte expressed his enthusiasm about the recognition, “It’s terrific to make it into the top ten of Expedia’s Summer Outlook, but clinching the top spot is truly extraordinary. Our team is elated by this achievement and remains committed to promoting our beautiful territory.”

Other destinations on Expedia’s list include San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Cleveland, Ohio, which are drawing attention for their vibrant cultural scenes and dynamic city life. San Juan has recorded a 35 percent rise in travel interest thanks to its picturesque beaches and historical richness, while Cleveland is gaining traction for its trendy atmosphere and diverse recreational opportunities.

The survey further identified Indianapolis, Indiana; Las Vegas, Nevada; Napa County, California; and Honolulu, Hawaii as popular travel spots. Each city offers unique attractions, from Indianapolis’s family-friendly downtown to Las Vegas’s entertainment and nightlife, and from Napa’s vineyard-covered landscapes to Honolulu’s balance of urban and natural attractions.

Emerging destinations like Mackinac Island, Michigan, and Kauai, Hawaii, also made the list, offering visitors serene, nature-oriented getaways. Mackinac Island is ideal for a relaxing summer retreat, whereas Kauai offers a tranquil escape amidst lush tropical scenery.

This broad spectrum of destinations highlights the diverse interests of U.S. travelers, ranging from urban exploration and cultural immersion to peaceful retreats in picturesque settings.

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Tourism

Governor Bryan Launches Annual Tourism Feedback Summit for USVI

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Governor Albert Bryan has unveiled plans for an inaugural one-day summit aimed at gathering extensive feedback from stakeholders in the US Virgin Islands’ tourism industry. Announced during a Monday press briefing, the summit is envisioned as a post-season debrief to celebrate successes and identify opportunities for improvement.

Governor Bryan emphasized the importance of such a debrief, stating, “Following any major event, a thorough review of what worked, what didn’t, and how we can enhance operations is crucial.” He highlighted the summit’s goal to foster more cohesive operations across various sectors such as transportation, lodging, food & beverage, and excursions. The idea is to gather direct feedback from those closest to the tourism activities, encapsulating the experiences of both land-based and maritime visitors.

The governor drew upon his recent experience at the Seatrade convention in Miami, where the performance of the US Virgin Islands’ tourism was praised. “Our industry leaders are enthusiastic about our current trajectory,” he noted. Nevertheless, he sees the local summit as a strategic move to tailor discussions to the specific context and challenges of the USVI.

Governor Bryan has tasked Joe Boschulte and his team at the Department of Tourism with the summit’s organization, stressing the urgency of translating feedback into actionable plans. These actions, according to him, will involve collaborations among the executive branch, the legislature, and private sector partners to amplify the past season’s successes into future enhancements.

Highlighting the tourism sector’s significance, Governor Bryan remarked, “Tourism accounts for 70 percent of our economy, necessitating ongoing enhancement to maintain and boost our market position.” This new annual summit represents a proactive step in ensuring the US Virgin Islands remain a premier destination by aligning stakeholder efforts and directly addressing the industry’s unique challenges.

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