5,000-seat sports facility proposed for Mars Hill

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ST. CROIX - The V.I. Housing Finance Authority is looking for community ideas and input on a proposed multi-purpose indoor sports complex in Estate Mars Hill.

The agency will host a town hall meeting to take comments and suggestions for the project starting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at their offices at 100 Lagoon Complex, Suite 4, in Frederiksted.

"We're hoping to get input from the community and other stakeholders," said Housing Finance Authority executive director Adrienne Williams.

The idea, she said, is to get that input so once the request for proposals goes out, the scope of the project will be "very representative of community needs."

The proposed project is divided into phases, with the first phase involving the construction of a 5,000-seat multi-purpose indoor complex, designed to be a site for concerts, sports events and other activities, along with a multi-level parking area, according to a statement issued by the Housing Finance Authority.

It is to sit on about 44.5 acres in Estate Mars Hill behind Claude O. Markoe School, Williams said.

Williams described the proposed facility as one that could be used for Olympic-regulated basketball games and other sports, and could also be used for concerts and other types of activities.

Officials also are interested in having a wellness center that would include exercise and fitness rooms in the facility, where memberships would be available.

Developing the indoor sports facility is an initiative that former Sen. Usie Richards pushed, Williams said.

The Housing Finance Authority became involved because the land for the project was acquired with Community Development Block Grant funds, which the Housing Finance Authority now administers. The property was transferred to Housing Finance when it took over the Community Development Block Grant program from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Williams said.

Later, there was a $2 million appropriation to the Housing Finance Authority to do the pre-development work for the multi-purpose indoor sports complex.

That work includes archaeological and environmental testing on the property, survey work and clearing the site, Williams said.

According to a release about the town hall meeting, the proposed multi-purpose indoor complex will be designed to host professional and Olympic teams and will feature technology to allow film sessions in locker rooms.

The plan is for later phases to feature the development of dormitory facilities and supporting businesses and other family-friendly activities, Williams said.

"That's why all the plans we're discussing entail not only a sports complex, but other activities and businesses that would support the facility," she said. Suggestions so far for the remainder of the property include restaurants, archery, zip-lines and other family-oriented activities, she said.

"Those are all just brainstorm that the committee talked about. We'd also like to get the community's input," Williams said.

As for funding for the project, Williams said that although the Legislature in 2012 approved about $34 million in bonding to be divided between this project and a plan to redevelop Paul E. Joseph Stadium, those bonds have not yet been issued.

It was not clear when that might happen, and The Daily News was unable to reach Finance Commissioner Angel Dawson on Friday.

The Housing Finance Authority has been working closely with the Sports, Parks and Recreation Department to ensure that the two projects do not overlap, according to Williams.

"We have been working along with Commissioner St. Claire Williams so that both facilities complement each other and it's not a duplication of services and sports," she said. "We're very sensitive to that, and as such, we have been regularly sharing information on both projects as we move along."

The town meeting is a necessary step before moving forward with issuing a request for proposals, according to Williams.

"For this meeting, we are taking input on the overall strategy. We will be discussing the plans for the very first phase as well as what's on the drawing board for subsequent phases," she said.

Williams said she does not have a time frame for project completion at this point.

But she does want to hear from the public.

"I'm hoping that people will come out and attend and share their ideas and input so that we can have a complex or a sports facility for what we believe will definitely provide some stimulus for the economy," she said. "It has larger implications for hosting the type of events that can provide stimulus for the economy, not only for Frederiksted, but for St. Croix and the territory as a whole."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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