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Expansion Plans for Hibiscus Beach Hotel Stir Debate in St. Croix Community

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The serene landscape of the Hibiscus Beach Hotel prior to its devastation by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Courtesy of TRAVEL WEEKLY.

The serene tranquility of LaGrande Princesse in St. Croix is at the heart of a spirited community debate over the proposed expansion of the Hibiscus Beach Hotel. Destroyed by Hurricane Maria, the hotel’s revival plans have met with opposition from neighboring property owners, raising concerns over potential flooding issues.

The Coastal Zone Management Commission’s St. Croix Committee convened on Thursday to scrutinize the developers’ application for the hotel’s third phase. This ambitious project aims to enrich the property with 62 additional rooms, alongside new amenities including a bar, gym, restaurant, and swimming pool. The proposal also highlights environmental initiatives such as beach replenishment, the expansion of green spaces, and the installation of sophisticated drainage systems to combat the area’s flooding challenges.

Significantly, the development plan promises to enhance public beach access, featuring a newly designated parking space without impeding entry. Clarence Browne, the project’s architect, emphasized the commitment to maintaining open access and taking protective measures for the local turtle population.

Addressing stormwater concerns, engineer Damien Cartwright presented a pollution prevention strategy, boasting stormwater storage capabilities exceeding current requirements. These efforts, he argued, are part of a larger, necessary flood mitigation strategy that demands broader administrative action.

However, skepticism among locals persists. Attorney Curt Otto, representing concerned neighbors, criticized the plan for not adequately addressing the long-standing water management issues, suggesting that the development might exacerbate them. Otto highlighted the community’s frustration with the area’s inadequate infrastructure, particularly the overstretched sewage system, and called for comprehensive solutions before proceeding with new developments.

Despite these concerns, Alicia Barnes, representing the hotel, pointed to the government’s approval for a new wastewater system as a step forward, arguing that resolving territorial issues should not fall solely on developers.

Community members, including Mitch Graham and Elizabeth Kleisch, voiced their apprehensions about the project’s implications for local sewage management and public beach access. Graham recounted personal experiences of flooding exacerbating sewage problems, while Kleisch lamented the potential loss of traditional beach access points, fearing it would limit public enjoyment of one of the island’s prime beaches.

In response, Marlon Hibbert, the Coastal Zone Management Director, assured attendees of the thoroughness of the review process, emphasizing ongoing oversight to address community concerns throughout the project’s lifespan.

With the public comment period open until next Thursday, the St. Croix community awaits a mid-April decision on the future of the Hibiscus Beach Hotel’s proposed expansion, a project at the intersection of development aspirations and environmental stewardship.

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SBA Launches T.H.R.I.V.E. Training Program for Small Business Owners in 2024

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The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has unveiled the T.H.R.I.V.E. (Train, Hope, Rise, Innovate, Venture, Elevate) training program, set to begin in 2024. This initiative, evolving from the previous Emerging Leaders program, is tailored to bolster the expansion and longevity of small businesses throughout the United States, including those in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Starting on June 18 and concluding on December 10, 2024, T.H.R.I.V.E. offers a blend of online and in-person sessions. The curriculum is designed to enhance leadership skills, strategic financial management, market innovation, and the development of a vibrant company culture. Participants will engage in an interactive format, receiving guidance from experts and creating a comprehensive three-year strategic growth plan.

Isabel Casillas Guzman, the 27th Administrator of the SBA, stressed the importance of the program. “The T.H.R.I.V.E. Emerging Leaders Reimagined initiative arms budding small business leaders with the essential tools and knowledge, providing them access to top economic minds, which is crucial for competing in the global market,” she noted.

To qualify, businesses must have been operational for at least three years, generate minimum annual revenues of $250,000, employ at least one person besides the owner, and the owner must participate throughout the six-month program duration.

Josué E. Rivera, SBA’s district director for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, emphasized the training’s collaborative approach. “Our innovative cohort model not only fosters a network of support but also connects participants with leading figures in the industry and government. This approach is instrumental in cultivating business growth and sustainable practices,” Rivera said.

Wayne Huddleston, SBA senior area manager for the U.S. Virgin Islands, highlighted the program’s local impact. “For small business owners in the U.S. Virgin Islands, this program offers crucial tools and knowledge to help them diversify their revenue streams and expand their operations. I urge interested entrepreneurs to apply before the April 28 deadline, as space is limited,” he urged.

Entrepreneurs from the U.S. Virgin Islands interested in the 2024 T.H.R.I.V.E. cohort can obtain more information and apply by visiting the SBA’s official website or by contacting the SBA’s St. Croix office at 340-473-7945. Applications are open until April 28, 2024.

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Leadership Transition at RTPark as CEO Peter Chapman Announces Departure

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The Research and Technology Park (RTPark) is set for a new chapter in leadership as CEO Peter H. Chapman has announced he will be stepping down after a dynamic and impactful six years at the helm. Chapman, credited with steering RTPark through a period marked by strategic innovations and robust growth, will see his contract conclude without renewal. His future endeavors will concentrate on his venture, Urban Policy Innovations (UPI), an economic development and real estate advisory firm, as revealed in a recent RTPark press release.

Chapman’s era at RTPark is distinguished by remarkable financial achievements and the enhancement of the community’s socio-economic landscape in the Virgin Islands. Under his guidance, RTPark was distinguished with the 2020 Economic Development Organization of the Year award by the International Economic Development Council. The park’s business portfolio witnessed a substantial 275% growth, while its revenues soared by over 300%, obliterating a $4 million debt accumulated before Chapman’s leadership in 2018. Notably, RTPark’s support for the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) saw a dramatic increase, contributing $3 million in 2023—a more than 300% rise since 2018, cumulating to approximately $14 million in support since RTPark’s inception.

Reflecting on his tenure, Chapman expressed his dedication to the economic diversification efforts of the RTPark and the broader Virgin Islands community. “Leading the RTPark has been a privilege, and I am thankful for the trust and opportunity granted by the RTPark Board of Directors and the organization’s visionary founders,” he remarked.

Chapman attributed the success of RTPark to a vigorous economic development strategy that propelled tech sector growth and diversified revenue streams. This approach included enticing new enterprises, nurturing startups, developing the workforce, facilitating access to capital, and enhancing infrastructure. He also acknowledged the crucial role of RTPark-affiliated companies in fueling the organization’s expansion and its significant investments in UVI.

As Chapman prepares for his departure, he remains devoted to a smooth transition and the continued prosperity of RTPark’s projects. He hinted at his potential involvement in special economic development projects within the Virgin Islands post-RTPark, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve and his anticipation for RTPark’s future trajectory.

“The collective achievements during my tenure are a reflection of the collaborative effort and commitment of our team, partners, and the community. I am proud of our accomplishments and eager to witness RTPark’s ongoing success,” Chapman concluded.

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Launch of GERS Personal Loan Program: A New Opportunity for Government Employees

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The Government Employees’ Retirement System (GERS) has officially announced the opening for expressions of interest in its newly relaunched personal loan program, sparking excitement among its members. Following a resolution in January by the GERS Board of Trustees, $20 million has been earmarked to fuel this initiative, aimed at providing financial assistance to its members. This revival splits the allocated funds equally between the St. Croix and St. Thomas-St. John administrative districts.

Eligibility for this financial opportunity is extended to active members who have contributed for a minimum of two years. They can apply for loans up to $10,000, repayable over a span of five years or before the borrower reaches the age of 70, at an interest rate of 8%.

Members interested in availing themselves of this opportunity are encouraged to express their interest through an online loan interest form or by personally visiting GERS offices. The deadline for submission is set for April 18, before noon. An application fee of $50 is required as part of the process, as stated by the agency.

Following the initial expression of interest, the pre-qualification stage will commence. Successful candidates will then be notified to arrange interview appointments, proceeding in the sequence in which their expressions of interest were received. This structured approach ensures a transparent and orderly process, allowing members to step closer to financial empowerment through the GERS personal loan program.

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