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Dale A. Gregory Transportation Center Inaugurated in St. Thomas with Celebratory Flair

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Dale Gregory and family join local officials in celebrating the new parking lot facility in St. Thomas, April 16, 2024. Photo by Ernice Gilbert, V.I. Consortium.

The Dale A. Gregory Transportation Center, a significant enhancement project by the V.I. Port Authority, was inaugurated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday and is set to open to the public on Monday, April 22. The event marked the completion of the center’s first phase, which will ultimately feature 311 public parking spaces and nine accessible spots. The ceremony was occasionally interrupted by the sounds of ongoing construction, signaling the imminent completion of the project’s second phase expected in May.

Parking at the new facility will be free for the first 15 minutes, with subsequent fees ranging from $4 per hour to $20 daily. Funded by a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce-Economic Development Administration awarded in 2019, and complemented by a $6.8 million local contribution, the project stands as a testament to the U.S. Virgin Islands’ commitment to infrastructural progress under the leadership of V.I. Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe.

The inauguration event was attended by notable figures including Senate President Novelle Francis and Governor Albert Bryan, who both praised Dowe’s leadership. “If you want something done, give it to Dowe. Dowe now!” exclaimed Francis, a sentiment echoed by Governor Bryan who expressed unequivocal support for Dowe’s vision.

“We’ve literally watched the Dale A. Gregory Transportation Center take shape from the ground up, and it’s not everyday you’re able to break ground and cut ribbon in a reasonable amount of time,” Senator Francis remarked.

VIPA Deputy Executive Director Anise Hodge highlighted the center as part of broader infrastructural advancements, such as the expansion of airport runways and the creation of the Lindbergh Bay water park. She commended the diligent efforts of VIPA staff and collaborating entities in realizing these projects.

Dale Gregory, the center’s namesake and a veteran engineer with 37 years at VIPA, spoke of the honor and the culmination of his long-standing dedication to the community. “This honor is not just mine. It belongs to every person who has been a part of this incredible journey,” he stated.

Carlton Dowe spent his speech acknowledging the contributions of his team, including Chief of Staff Julice Holder, Chief Financial Officer Ava Penn, Ms. Hodge, and Senator Donna Frett-Gregory, who was VIPA’s CFO prior to her legislative role. He highlighted the importance of leadership in implementing challenging but necessary measures, like the passenger surcharge that partly funded the center.

Dowe also recognized the efforts of contractors and engineers who played pivotal roles in the project, emphasizing the collaborative effort across government bodies that brought the project to fruition. “I really wanted to thank each and every one of you up here, in particular the governing body, because I could have all the ideas I want [but] if I don’t have enough people to support the idea and bring people around, that idea is for nought,” he noted.

Tourism Commissioner Joseph Boschulte pointed out the transportation center’s positive impact on St. Thomas’s tourism, enhancing the convenience of pickups and ground transportation for residents and visitors alike.

Governor Bryan commended Mr. Gregory’s longstanding service and the VIPA team’s dedication, noting that progress is challenging yet essential for transformation. “As we progress through this transformation of our incredible Virgin Islands, I want you to remember that the tunnel might be dark, but there’s light at the end,” he concluded, symbolizing hope for the future amidst ongoing developments.

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VIHFA Submits Finalized Amendment to Mitigation Action Plan for HUD Review

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The Virgin Islands Housing Finance Authority (VIHFA) has officially submitted its finalized Second Substantial Amendment to the Mitigation Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for review. This amendment, shaped by extensive community feedback from recent public meetings and online forums, is expected to receive a response from HUD by July 2024.

“We are deeply grateful to the Virgin Islands community for their active participation in shaping this plan,” said Dayna Clendinen, VIHFA Chief Disaster Recovery Officer. “By prioritizing and investing in critical infrastructure projects, workforce development, small business growth, and economic stabilization initiatives, we can build a more resilient Virgin Islands. This comprehensive approach strengthens our communities, equips them to withstand future storms, reduces environmental impact, and fosters a thriving future for everyone.”

Key Highlights of the Second Substantial Amendment

Increased Funding for Infrastructure: The amendment increases funding for Infrastructure and Public Facilities from $363 million to $423 million. This additional support will finance the second phase of the Veterans Drive Improvement Project, which includes stormwater improvements, minimized erosion and pollution, and enhanced pedestrian mobility and safety.

Enhanced Economic Resilience Programs: Two new programs have been introduced to bolster economic resilience and revitalization:

  • Entrepreneurship Resilience and Innovation Program: Funded at $8 million, this program offers additional support for small businesses.
  • Workforce Development Mitigation Program: Also funded at $8 million, this program focuses on critical local training initiatives.

For more details, the finalized Second Amendment to the Mitigation Action Plan can be viewed on the VIHFA website.

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Lawmakers Approve Leases for Sejah Farm and Rumina Construction, Bolstering Local Economic Growth

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The Senate Committee on Budget, Appropriations, and Finance has approved two lease agreements of government-owned lands to support a local farm and a construction company, fostering economic development in the Virgin Islands. The bills now await approval from the 35th Legislature and Governor Albert Bryan.

Sejah Farm Lease

Bill No. 35-0261 authorizes a lease between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Yvette and Dale Brown, owners of Sejah Farm of the Virgin Islands. The 15-acre property, located at Plot No. 9-P Estate VICORP Lands, Prince Quarter, St. Croix, will be used for farming and related activities.

Senator Marvin Blyden, presenting the bill, emphasized the importance of the twenty-year lease for the farm’s ongoing livestock and crop production. Sejah Farm operates an agricultural learning center, teaching animal husbandry, soil improvement, and value-added production. The annual rent for the property is set at $225.69.

Mrs. Brown outlined the farm’s use of the property, which includes livestock grazing, organic crop production, and poultry, meat, and egg production. The farm supplies fresh meat and vegetables to local and overseas markets, focusing on bolstering the territory’s agricultural sector.

Rumina Construction Lease

Bill No. 35-0255 details a multi-year lease agreement with Rumina Construction, LLC, for land at Submarine Base, No. 6 Southside Quarter, St. Thomas. The lease allows the company to use the land for an equipment and material storage depot yard, construction company office, and related purposes. Senator Blyden noted that the lease supports a local business that provides essential services to the community.

Rumina Construction, involved in several hurricane recovery projects, employs twelve Virgin Islanders. Franklin Victor, the company’s owner, reported significant investments in property improvements, totaling nearly $100,000 since the original lease.

The bills will proceed to the Committee on Rules and Judiciary for further consideration.

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Debate on Sidewalk Bar Proposal Ignites at Historical Preservation Meeting

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The St. Thomas-St. John Historical Preservation Society convened on a recent Tuesday to deliberate on several matters, including a contentious proposal for a new sidewalk bar at Meada’s Plaza in Cruz Bay. The plan, which calls for tearing down an existing concrete slab and erecting new structures with subtle lighting and movable seating, sparked a lively debate over aesthetics, public parking, and the complexities of navigating the permitting maze within historic districts.

Sean Krigger, the director of the State Historical Preservation Office, voiced his reservations about the design elements of the proposed bar, particularly the herringbone pattern intended for the perimeter wall. He suggested that the design might clash with the existing architectural style of Cruz Bay, which leans towards a more modern aesthetic. “The flooring might handle the design, but on a wall, it becomes too conspicuous,” Krigger explained. He proposed exploring the use of stone, which is prevalent in the district’s construction.

During the discussions, the perennial issue of parking resurfaced, mirroring concerns raised at a similar meeting of the St. Croix Historic Preservation Committee. Enrique Rodriguez, a committee member, pointed out that the proposed site for the sidewalk bar had been originally designated for parking. The local zoning laws currently do not allow the Historical Preservation Committee (HPC) to waive these parking requirements, a point Krigger emphasized. However, Kurt Marsh, another member, noted that the developers possessed a nearby parking lot that might serve as an alternative parking space, pending approval from planning authorities.

The committee also considered whether to approve the project conditionally, pending the acquisition of all necessary permits. Krigger strongly opposed this, stating, “We should not approve projects that do not fully comply with zoning and building laws.” This sentiment underscored the committee’s commitment to upholding legal standards rigorously, contrasting with the more flexible approaches sometimes observed on other islands.

Architect Clarence Brown expressed frustration with the convoluted permitting process, recounting instances of being shuffled between departments without clear guidance. “It’s baffling that every agency points to another, and yet we’re expected to have all approvals in place before moving forward,” Brown stated.

Ultimately, despite Krigger’s objections, Marsh proposed granting conditional approval, dependent on confirmation of the alternative parking arrangements and necessary adjustments to the design plans. The committee unanimously agreed, marking a significant step forward for the proposed project at 6B Vester Gade in Cruz Bay, St. John, despite the noted challenges and procedural hurdles.

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