Residents protest lack of progress on stadium


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ST. CROIX - A small group of 12 to 15 people carrying signs calling for the redevelopment of Paul E. Joseph Stadium and the jobs the project could bring to the island demonstrated outside the Legislature Building in Frederiksted on Wednesday afternoon.

The demonstration, which involved some members of the grassroots organization "We the People," as well as some other West End residents, took place while a Senate committee was considering a bill about the stadium.

The bill would change the existing legislation, passed by the 29th Legislature in late 2012, that authorizes the financing to pay for the Paul E. Joseph Stadium redevelopment project.

Protest organizer George Flores said the demonstrators just want the project to move forward - that the people, as well as the town, need it.

Although senators on the Culture, Historic Preservation, Youth and Recreation Committee on Wednesday listened as deJongh administration officials testified about the bill - which was requested by the governor - lawmakers ultimately expressed a number of concerns about the bill in its current form and voted to hold it in committee.

A contract for the project has not yet been executed, although a draft has been sent to the contractor for review, according to testimony.

John Wessel, managing partner of General Engineering Corp LLC, the contractor the government selected for the stadium project, did not testify before the committee on Wednesday.

However, he sent a letter saying his attorney had advised him that it would be "premature" for a representative of GEC to testify because the bill concerns "governmental procedures to which GEC is not a party, and because GEC has not yet executed a contract for the referenced Paul E. Joseph Stadium."

Senators who voted to hold the bill in committee until the call of committee Chairman Myron Jackson were Kenneth Gittens, Jackson, Shawn-Michael Malone, Terrence Nelson and Tregenza Roach.

Senators Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly and Janette Millin Young were absent when the vote was taken.

The bill was one of two measures that Gov. John deJongh Jr. requested the 30th Legislature pass in a special session he called for July 16. Senators passed one of the measures by amending a $50 million borrowing bill, but sent the stadium bill back to go through the committee process.

Bonding to finance the stadium project was approved by the 29th Legislature in late 2012.

The bill before the committee Wednesday would amend the 29th Legislature's authorization of bonding to fund the stadium project by:

- Clarifying that the project includes the financing of a Little League field and the Festival Village, as well as the stadium.

- Stating that the first $17.5 million of the Recreational Projects Bonds will be applied to finance the stadium project.

- Giving the government the flexibility to finance the stadium project and another sports facility - the Mars Hill Multipurpose Indoor Center - through issuing either Gross Receipts Tax Bonds or Matching Fund Revenue Bonds.

- Authorizing the pledge of Community Facilities Trust Revenues - part of the rum tax proceeds from Diageo - as security for repaying the bonds.

- Ratifying the government's procurement by Request for Proposals and negotiations of design-build services for the stadium project, and authorizing the government to negotiate, execute and deliver all documents and agreements as necessary in the design and construction of the project.

Flores said the project is important to Frederiksted, and to the island as a whole.

"We think it's time we build this ballpark," he said.

While those who were planning to demonstrate waited quietly under the awning running along the outside of the Legislature Building for more people to show up, the head of security for the 30th Legislature asked them to move across the street and police were called.

The small group had already moved across the street when a police officer arrived, but the request to move away from the Legislature building did not sit well with some, who said they had a right to be there to demonstrate.

Flores also complained about the state of Paul E. Joseph Stadium, which has been condemned.

"It's the responsibility of this government to maintain their property, and they're not doing it," he said.

Dion Lorenzo, of Dion's Construction was one of those demonstrating. He said that he hopes things get started with the stadium soon.

"So many people are leaving this island," he said.

According to testimony Wednesday from Housing Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams, the current stadium proposal includes a AAA-dimensioned baseball field and a 3,500-seat multi-use stadium; a 750-seat Little League Baseball field; associated lighting, a press box and other amenities; an entry plaza with ticket booths; restrooms; a concession building; an open pavilion; a locker and maintenance building; and a permanent St. Croix Christmas Carnival Village.

According to Williams, the stadium project would be a "turnkey" facility, ready for operation with furniture, fixtures and equipment, with a total contract amount for design and construction of $20 million.

Under the current proposal, Williams said that the design phase and demolition of the old stadium is expected to take six months, and construction is expected to take 18 months.

Two years ago, local government officials put the brakes on a different proposal for redeveloping the stadium, citing issues raised in a Daily News investigative report that found that some of the off-island contractors the government intended to partner with for the deal had misrepresented credentials and connections; amassed a history of financial troubles, foreclosures and failures that cast doubt on their ability to provide funds for the project; and earned the distrust of some stateside governments.

The chief financial officer of one of the companies the V.I. government wanted to do business with in the 2012 deal currently is serving a 42-month prison term in the Eden Correctional Institution in Texas for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in connection with his business dealings in a different company he was involved in and a different project.

After the 2012 proposal, the project went back to the drawing board.

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

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