V.I. Port Authority Executive Director, Carlton Dowe, told lawmakers Wednesday that the authority has been experiencing financial hardship as a result of “repeated shutdowns, varying travel restrictions and general fear of traveling during the pandemic.” He said those factors negatively impacted travel and the tourism industry.
Further exacerbating the situation, VIPA experienced severe financial losses on the marine side as a result of the 18-month ban on cruise travel. “The U.S. Virgin Islands received no cruise calls from March 2020 until the first ship returned on July 20, 2021 on St. Thomas and August 8, 2021 on St. Croix. Moreover, much of the cargo imports to the USVI are food and supplies to provision cruise ships at our ports. Therefore, when cruise activity decreased, the territory’s cargo imports also decreased by almost 30 percent during the same time,” Mr. Dowe said.
VIPA, he made known, experienced a financial loss of $9.2 million in 2020 in marine revenues.
Aside from the financial difficulties resulting from the pandemic, the Port Authority is also struggling to fund the completion of the expansion and modernization of both the territory’s airports. The Henry E. Rohsen Airport, whose first phase was completed in December with the modernization and expansion of the terminal, is projected to cost $150 million and will include a myriad of expansions and improvements, among them a 21,000 square foot second-floor terminal.
The Cyril E. King Airport expansion project will cost roughly $350 million. The second phase of the CEKA expansion is completed. “Phase 3 includes expansion of the commuter gates and the buildout of the northern wing of the terminal to include construction of up to five jet bridges,” Mr. Dowe said.
He added, “While the design is completed, we also continue to seek a funding source for the remaining design and construction stages of this four-phase project.”
Yet even with the financial hardships, the Port Authority continues to be the most active arm of government in the Bryan administration, with several projects being completed while multiple others are projected to see ribbon-cutting events soon. Mr. Dowe has also been making major moves on the marine side with partner Royal Caribbean. In September, VIPA and Royal Caribbean announced a multi-year port development deal that the Consortium has learned will cost between $150 -$200 million for enhancements at the Austin Monsanto Marine Facility in Crown Bay, St. Thomas and the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility in Frederiksted, St. Croix. And in April, they announced an agreement that stands to transform cruise tourism on St. Croix, bringing 140,000 visitors to the island annually beginning early next year, while St. Thomas will see an additional 400,00 passengers.
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