When it comes to the proposed $75M private/public partnership cruise ship pier and land side development, the issue of sovereignty is not an option, according to Communications and Works Minister, Hon. Mark Vanterpool.
During a local television programme on Saturday, July 14, the Minister was warned by a resident to be careful with the developers.
"The cruise ship people looking out for themselves...They want to have their own stores, tours; you have to be careful dealing with these cruise ship people and them controlling the dock," the caller stated.
However, the Minister said the investors will not have any control over the dock and the Government, through the BVI Ports Authority, will remain in control of all the ports. The resident said Government must note that with the developers investing $75M of their money, they will want a certain amount of control.
In response, Minister Vanterpool said sovereignty is not an option. "Control of what; but they [investors] can want what they want caller, but we will give them what we know we are going to give them. They are not going to have any control over our ports...You don't have to hope so, I am telling so...You will be comforted that this Government will ensure airport and sea ports will be controlled 100 percent by our Government. Sovereignty is not an option; no one will take control of our ports."
The issue of why locals, along with Government, could not have raised the money for such a large scale project rather than having a foreign investor was also raised.
Minister Vanterpool expressed the view that it is time for the BVI public to start thinking of how they can start developing a proper trust or investment fund. According to him, it will help when a project of such magnitude comes up, allowing for locals to be in a position to invest.
"We don't have to wait until when a project like this comes up, but where you can probably develop a fund that over five or ten years, you grow a $100M; just like Social Security, for example. And you can build that fund for particular proposes and properly managed, just like how the Social Security Board is properly managed. But it is a fund that private citizens' can own and make determinations and make investment in these kinds of project."
He added, "There is this [cruise] project, down the road it could be BVI Electricity, 16 years from now it could be water, or something else. It's these kinds of things we can develop and invite the public to invest in...And the fund can be invested in the meantime and stay for positions until they go into investment. It is needed and if we are going to develop our country and going to get our people involved, we need to start developing such a fund now. It is important and it is not impossible."
The issue of leasing the land to the developers for 48 years was also raised, but Minister Vanterpool, like on previous occasions, sought to explain how it will work and that there will be buyout options.
"...So it's 48 years to give people [investors] the comfort to do what they are doing. We cannot raise the money now; we don't have the ability to do it. We may be able to; it may take us a year or two to raise it, I don't know; or we may be able to do it tomorrow, I don't know. But I know we are restricted right now in terms of borrowing money as a Government."
He further explained, "However, we are saying that we have gone out and asked these people to come in and make this investment and we have the option after 15 years to pay them out and let them go and if you cannot do it in 15 years, then in 20 or 25 and thereafter. So the option is there and each five years the cost of taking them out is expected to be a bit lower, but it's not going to be as people think billions of dollars to do it..."
The development is referred to as the Tortola Pier Park and the investment will come from IDEA and its parent company, US-Based United Infrastructure Group (UIG). The total investment is $75M, with $25M for pier and excursion dock; $25M landside development; and $25M community investment.
Under the proposed plan, Government will have to lease the land for 48 years to the developers and Disney and Norwegian Cruise Lines have guaranteed a large number of passengers over the next 15 years and an increase in passenger tax. The guaranteed amount of passengers is 425,000 minimum passenger arrivals per year.
According to the developers, the project which will see the BVI Ports moving from a B class to A class port, will develop the area in such a way that it will be "married to the rest of Road Town". This, according to Government, will result in other businesses benefiting as a whole, including vendors at the proposed Craft Alive Market area. The development includes the extension of the pier, a retail village, community park, market, ferris wheel, boardwalk, a terminal building, a chapel and trolley lines.
Not The Same As BiWater Deal
Meanwhile, last evening, July 16 during the National Democratic Party (NDP) radio programme, a caller questioned the Works Minister about them bringing in international franchises to operate at the park and competing with local stores. However, Minister Vanterpool said locals will have a fair opportunity to operate in the area.
"I basically say to everyone, we are going to have spaces on that development that will be available for shops and rentals and if tomorrow all locals come to the table to rent spaces and can provide the services, I believe it will be a welcomed thing; that is how I see it. However, if that is not the case, we have gone out and secured a certain number of spaces that will be exclusively for locals, but the other spaces are available for anyone local or otherwise who may be able to provide the service that will be needed to make that cruise ship pier operate," he explained.
The Minister, who said he will not mince his words, stated that services will be needed for customers and it must be provided.
"Services are needed and they will be provided. Now I don't know what franchise we are speaking about; we are looking for shops to put there that will meet the demands of the customers that are coming and if we can provide them locally, we can; if we cannot, we are looking for persons who can provide. I am not going to mince any words about it," the Minister stated last evening.
Road Town Cruise Pier
Photo Credit: Clifton Skelton/BVI Platinum News
On the radio programme, the proposed project was also compared to that of the controversial BiWater agreement which was inked under the former Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Government.
"...During the Biwater situation I heard a lot of rhetoric and during the campaign and even recently, that we brought in BiWater to compete against Ocean Conversion that has all of these local investors. And I am confused how you can speak about the fact that we should not be competed against on one hand and on the other hand we are speaking about we are not ready and we are not able to do certain things or offer the quality and goods that consumers need...," the caller stated.
Minister Vanterpool in response said the two projects cannot be compared.
"And there is no comparison of what I am talking about here to the BiWater situation. It is totally different. So anyone who makes those kinds of comparisons, I wouldn't go into discussing all of the pros and cons about it, but I distinctly say it is not the same thing," Minister Vanterpool stated.
At a June public meeting where the proposed project was unveiled, the Minister stated that the buildings will be rented to locals and international companies, and there will be reserved space for locals. He said there will be no McDonald's or KFC.
"We will expect and we are not going to discourage a mix of investments in the project...We do expect to attract certain names in the project, but we are going to reserve a certain number of spaces for our local people in the project; 25 minimum, 500 square foot spaces that would cost a very low rent compared to the other persons who we will invite to come into the project...The decision of who comes into the project will be handled by a management team that is made up of the Ports Authority and this group..."
At the time he added, "We don't want the international franchises like the McDonald's and Kentucky...We are talking like the upscale jewelry places."