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A rendering of Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix following the multimillion-dollar modernization project.

The V.I. Port Authority on Thursday held a “kick-off ceremony” for the first phase of the Rohlsen Airport’s Terminal Expansion and Modernization Project on St. Croix.

The $8.6 million first phase, funded by a $7 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration and a local match of $1.6 million from the Port Authority, seeks to address major capacity and concession deficiencies in the current pre-clearance area that serves both mainland and Puerto Rico flights.

“Currently, there is only enough seating to handle a little over two jets on the ground simultaneously,” said Port Authority Assistant Executive Director Damian Cartwright at Thursday’s ceremony.

“The completion of this project will allow for comfortable accommodations of 5-6 jets simultaneously with a host of concessions and amenities to include a bar/restaurant, retail options, various kiosks and multiple charging stations for mobile devices,” he added.

James Benton, president of J. Benton Construction, the limited liability company selected as head contractor, said the project will put Rohlsen Airport “on par with the best stateside airport systems, finishes and 21st century conveniences.”

“[We] will completely gut and refinish the departure area lounge, concession area, ticket counters and public restrooms,” he said.

Other additions include a 215-ton air cool chiller, LED lighting, a new fire sprinkler system and fire alarm, a new public address system, a terrazzo floor and a decorative modular ceiling — what Benton referred to as the “perfect merger of modern technology and eye-catching upgrades.”

“The project will employ 95 tradesmen and women across 10 subcontractors and nearly 35 vendors — and we’ve achieved a 93% local hiring rate,” Benton said “Dollars generated by this project will circulate in the economy and the government will realize about $500,000 in gross receipts taxes.”

The first phase is expected to take 18 months to complete. The entire project is anticipated to be done in four phases over a six-year period and cost roughly $140 million.

Phases two through four include the addition of a second level to accommodate jet bridges, an additional hold room, concession and retail space, as well as improvements to passenger flow and baggage handling in the terminal.

Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe urged the public to be patient as the project moves forward.

“We want some things done overnight but you can’t bite off the whole thing one time,” he said. “This is a process and this is the beginning of yet another process.”

Dowe thanked other dignitaries present at the airport ceremony who were instrumental in making the project a reality, including Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett and members of the Legislature, including Senate President Novelle Francis Jr., Kurt Vialet, Allison DeGazon, Donna Frett-Gregory and Javan James Sr.

— Contact A.J. Rao at 340-714-9104 or email