V.I. Port Authority officials are asking St. John residents to organize themselves to come up with a plan for a proposed multipurpose park and event venue at the Enighed Pond barge landing area.
VIPA started the conversation with community leaders in December 2019, said Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe. VIPA is eyeing the 3.75 acre Enighed site as the new home for St. John Celebration, which has outgrown its longstanding venue at the Customs parking lot in Cruz Bay. Dowe expressed a desire for the project to move quickly, and said he hopes to break ground “sometime next year.”
“This is a clean slate,” Dowe said at a town hall meeting last week. “I want to use this night as a beginning to approach what we really want to do.”
Scott Lagueux, director of waterfront planning for Moffatt & Nichol, a stateside firm that is contracted as VIPA’s marine consultant, shared some of the project’s parameters.
“This is a gathering place, a celebrated place, a once-in-a-50-year project,” said Lagueux. “This is your Central Park, your opportunity to do something unique and forward-thinking.”
Lagueux said the plan should be versatile, with the opportunity to “turn on a dime” to serve as a hurricane relief staging area. The waterfront site is in a wave velocity zone, so construction will be pile-supported, and enclosed spaces will be limited or avoided. The plan should incorporate restrooms, storage, and some fixed structures, and should show sensitivity to how things like noise and light pollution would affect area residents and businesses.
“Carving the area in a way that allows for a lot of things to happen becomes the main priority for the site,” said Lagueux.
About 80 percent of the site will be a multipurpose event lawn and the design will include a covered performance stage, powered locations for temporary stalls, public art and heritage elements, and parking. The venue will accommodate peak St. John Celebration crowds of around 3,000 to 4,000 people. The target for a completed final master plan is the end of 2022. The target for breaking ground is 2024, with a potential to break ground around the holidays in 2023 as a Christmas gift to the community, Lagueux said.
The V.I. Legislature has appropriated $400,000 for the venue’s design process. Construction of the multipurpose park is not yet funded, but Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory suggested the community consider using the St. John Capital Improvement Fund, which up until 2019 was used to move trash from the island to the Bovoni Landfill on St. Thomas. The St. John Capital Improvement Fund receives $1.5 million annually, said the Senate president.
“Get together and tell us what your ask is,” said Frett-Gregory. “Our job is to give you the ask, because you do have those funds available to you. If additional resources are needed, we have a responsibility to figure this out.”
Several residents shared their questions, concerns, and ideas at what was perhaps the most well-attended public meeting since the pandemic, with close to 70 in attendance at the Cleone Creque Legislative Conference Room and nearly 20 tuning in virtually.
Area resident Crystal George-Thomas asked how the major flooding that often occurs at the northern end of the site will affect the project. Dowe responded that the V.I. Dept. of Public Works and the V.I. Waste Management Authority will be involved in the project’s design. St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator Avery Lewis, who attended the meeting on behalf of St. John Administrator Shikima-Jones Sprauve, further clarified that the design phase for the troubled intersection, which will soon go out for bid solicitation, will take between six months and a year, with construction to follow. Funding is already approved for the road project.
Carmen Wesselhoft-Hedrington said the St. John Car Ferry Association collaborated with longtime resident Steve Black on a design for the area that includes a vendors plaza, amphitheater, and a walking and jogging track. The plan also includes a playground, whose mention inspired a handful of residents to urge the inclusion of a skate park, as the volunteer-run Skate St. John program recently lost its home on the Cruz Bay tennis courts after the courts were resurfaced.
Wesselhoft-Hedrington also spearheaded an effort to collect residents’ contact information for future meetings to discuss the Enighed project with the goal of gathering community input to present to VIPA during the planning process. Those who would like to be a part of this effort should email email@example.com.
Some residents asked why the area would be fenced off and closed at night.
“There are areas of the park that will have to be closed,” said Dowe. “VIPA will protect its investment.”
There will be no fee to enter the park, Lagueux added. The mention of fees raised the ire of resident Pam Gaffin, who reminded those in attendance that VIPA asserted parking at the Enighed site would be free when applying for a CZM permit to construct the parking area in 2010.
“The community made it very, very, very clear how they felt about the paid parking situation,” said Gaffin. “When you talk about wanting us to buy in and work together, and you’re going to listen to what we say, I have not seen that happen in the past and I don’t know why it would change in the future.”
Dowe elected not to respond to Gaffin’s comment and instead called on the next commenter.
St. John CZM Committee member Kurt Marsh Jr. raised the issue of a landscaping plan mandated by the committee that has not yet been implemented.
“The commission has requested through DPNR some response, and it would be a show of good faith to respond to that,” said Marsh.
VIPA Engineer Earl Thomas said he will collect comments from the community via email to share with Moffatt & Nichol during the planning process. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.