Some Havensight Mall tenants receive letters from WICO threatening evictions if back rent isn't paid


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ST. THOMAS - The West Indian Co. has sent letters to some Havensight Mall tenants seeking back rent and threatening eviction for non-payment.

"There have been many times tenants were delinquent in rent a few times, and they were never enforcing their lease rules, and now I believe they are starting to enforce the lease rules," said Havensight Merchants Association President Ram Mirpuri.

WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte said the letters went out recently to less than 25 percent of the mall's 60 tenants.

"We haven't done anything that's outside of the lease," Boschulte said.

He said issues between WICO and the Havensight tenants are confidential, and he would not provide further details about the letter or the lease terms of the tenants.

WICO owned Havensight Mall until 1993, when it was sold to the Government Employees' Retirement System. WICO has managed the property since the sale under a management contract that typically is renewed every five years.

The contract has been expired for more than four years, but the two government-owned agencies cannot agree on the terms of the new contract.

In the meantime, WICO has continued to manage the property on a month-to-month contract.

Boschulte said he understands that tenants are struggling, but he needs to collect the rent.

"We have a responsibility to the owner, GERS, to continue to collect revenues that the system expects," he said. "We empathize, but we also recognize that we have our own responsibility for our contract with GERS."

In the last few years, the GERS board has agreed to reduce the rent during the slow summer season.

"Over the past four or five years, there have been a series of rent reductions," Boschulte said. "This year there has been none, thus far."

Last year, GERS agreed to give some of the tenants a six-month rent abatement for the period of July 1, 2013, to December 31, 2013. It was designed to help offset the drop in business the shops had seen from the road construction - which only recently was completed - fewer cruise ships, skyrocketing utility costs and a faltering economy.

When the GERS board approved the rent abatement, tenants had accumulated a combined delinquency of more than $2 million and reported that they could no longer sustain the cost of doing business.

Mirpuri said the rent abatement was only for shops that are tourist-dependent, and it was not given to the banks, post office and other shops that cater to locals.

In the last year, several businesses, including Dockside Bookshop, have closed. The Draughting Shaft, which sells cards, stationery and office supplies, currently has signs on the doors that they are liquidating inventory, closing their Havensight store and moving to Nisky Center.

Boschulte said now that the road construction has finished, he expects things to improve in the area. He said the cruise ship arrivals are increasing and the peak seasons to come are looking strong.

"We see, actually, a rebound coming for the area," Boschulte said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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