WICO proposes building new pier in St. Thomas Harbor
Published: October 12, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - West Indian Co. officials were in the Senate on Friday to talk about their operations, budget and a proposal to build a new pier in St. Thomas Harbor.
WICO is owned by the government, but it is an autonomous entity, and it does not receive any money from the General Fund.
Finance Committee chairman Sen. Clifford Graham scheduled all the government's autonomous agencies to come before the committee after the Fiscal Year 2014 budget was passed.
WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boschulte said Friday that once again, WICO will not be able to pay the government its required payment in lieu of taxes. The company has not met this requirement since 2006 and currently owes about $4 million to the V.I. government, Boschulte said.
The national and international economic downturn, as well as competition from the Monsanto Marine Terminal in Crown Bay, have led to decreased revenues, he said.
Boschulte said he is working on a proposal to transfer the Estate Catherineburg property - worth about $3 million - to the government as a way to resolve most of WICO's outstanding debt.
Boschulte said the coming season is projected to have a 7.8 percent increase in cruise ship calls to the territory. From Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2014, WICO anticipates 423 ships will call at the WICO dock, bringing an estimated 1.3 million passengers. Additionally, four new ships will be in circulation: the Royal Princess, the MSC Divinia, the Carnival Conquest and the Norwegian Breakaway.
The summer months typically are the slowest time of year for cruise ship traffic, but WICO expects a 23 percent uptick in arrivals next summer.
While more ship calls are welcome news, overall, the Caribbean is losing market share and must find ways to stay relevant, according to Boschulte.
In 2010, 41 percent of all cruise itineraries were to Caribbean destinations, he said. In 2011, it fell to 39 percent, and in 2012 it fell to 37 percent, according to Boschulte.
He said the territory has to find ways to improve its tourism product.
"From my discussions with their representatives, it is highly unlikely that any of those cruise lines that used to, but no longer include the U.S. Virgin Islands on their itineraries, will be returning any time soon if we maintain the status quo," Boschulte said.
For direct spending from the cruise industry, the territory is in third place behind the Bahamas and St. Maarten, according to a study commissioned by the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association. The U.S. Virgin Islands also has dropped from the top spot in passenger spending to second place behind St. Maarten for the second year in a row, Boschulte said.
When the 150-foot dock expansion project is complete in November, the WICO dock will be able to accommodate three megaships.
Boschulte said in addition to the three berths along the WICO dock, a ship can berth in the inner harbor and one in the outer harbor, and the V.I. Port Authority can take two ships at Crown Bay.
"But there are times when the Port of Charlotte Amalie also is unable to find space for the ships, so they go elsewhere," Boschulte said. To keep the ships and revenues coming into the territory, WICO plans to build a second dock, a 1,334-foot finger pier on the western side of Yacht Haven Grande. It will accommodate two cruise ships, Boschulte said.
WICO still is in the early design phase and will seek public input before a design is finalized, he said.
The agency is working with Public Works Department engineers to design an entrance and exit that will minimize the impact to traffic congestion along Long Bay Road.
The steelpan yard where the Rising Stars practice should not be impacted, Boschulte said.
He said the plan is to add green space, but no additional retail space at the new dock facility.
The $50 million to $60 million project would be funded by partnering with the cruise lines, Boschulte said. No government money would be spent on the project, he said.
The two new berths would accommodate two Oasis-class ships - the size of Oasis of the Seas - bringing a total of 7,200 to 11,000 passengers per call.
It would bring in $70,000 per ship call in head tax alone, he said.
"Other islands are enhancing and expanding their port capacity. This is the point where we decide: are we going to do what we need to do, or remain third? Pull ahead or fall further behind?" Boschulte said.
A feasibility study already has been conducted for the new dock, he said.
The next step is to conduct geotechnical surveys and other standard tests that will allow structural safety, Boschulte said.
Boschulte said the need to move fast on the new dock project is critical, as at least eight new ships currently are under contract or construction.
"We cannot afford to sit still and maintain the status quo during the critical state of our economy, and at this pivotal stage of changing times in the cruise industry," Boschulte said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.