Public Finance Authority OKs larger loan for WICO pier extension project
Published: October 9, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Public Finance Authority gave the green light to West Indian Co. officials Tuesday to refinance a loan and borrow more money for the pier extension project currently under way.
The debt is the responsibility of WICO, but the transaction requires Public Finance Authority approval because WICO is owned by the government.
WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte told the Public Finance Authority board Tuesday that the transaction will refinance about $21.2 million in outstanding loans from 2002 and add about $7.2 million in new borrowing. The loan will be issued by Banco Popular.
The original 2002 loan was secured by a guarantee from the Public Finance Authority, and the new loan will also be secured by the Public Finance Authority.
Boschulte said he hopes to close on the loan next week.
The $7.2 million will help fund the $10 million project to extend the WICO pier, allowing for three mega cruise ships to berth at the WICO dock.
"The industry has grown in terms of the size and length of cruise ships," Boschulte said.
In order to keep ships calling on St. Thomas, the dock had to be extended, according to Boschulte. About 15 megaships currently are on order or already under construction for various lines, and St. Thomas must accommodate them or risk losing them to competing islands, he said.
The 150-foot extension is about 65 percent complete and in its second phase, he said.
"We expect the project to finish late November, early December," Boschulte said.
When complete, the dock will be a little more than 3,000 feet long, he said.
In addition to the dock extension, another mooring dolphin is being installed. A dolphin is a structure placed between the dock and the ship to cushion ship impacts. As part of the first phase, WICO replaced the 60-ton bollards - the large iron posts used to tie the ships up to the dock - with 150-ton bollards.
The next project for WICO will be to strengthen the inner berth, or the bulkhead, of the pier. Boschulte said the powerful thrusters of the cruise ships are eroding the dock. The project, which is scheduled to begin in May 2014 but is not yet funded, will cost about $6 million, he said.
WICO also is looking to build an additional pier in the harbor with two more berths. While only in the preliminary planning stages, a feasibility study was done and Boschulte is seeking partnerships to complete the project, which is expected to cost $50 million to $60 million.
He said the plan is to have another dock on the far side of Yacht Haven Grande.
Adding berths is critical to ensure ships continue to call on St. Thomas, according to Boschulte. He said the island's biggest competitor, St. Maarten, is putting in new berths as well.
WICO is anticipating approximately 416 port calls in the 2013-2014 season, which may bring as many as 1.3 million people to St. Thomas.
Additionally, four new ships will begin calling on St. Thomas: Royal Princess, MSC Divina, Carnival Conquest and Norwegian Breakaway. The 2013-2014 WICO cruise ship schedule is available at www.wico-vi.com.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.