Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Community Alliance to Preserve Historic Properties

I am a bit of a talk show radio junky. I love listening to the local talk shows. It gives me a sense of community and helps me to keep up with the dialogue and pulse of the VI. On one of today's shows I heard some representatives from the "Community Alliance to Preserve Historic Properties" talking about their efforts, their website and a bill that is coming up for review later this summer.
On first scan of their website it seems that the group is based out of St. Thomas and is spearheaded by realtors.  I am curious if they have begun to engage with the local organizations like the "Hillsiders", the "Watagonians" and "Upstreeters". What do the people who have lived in these towns think about their efforts and the bill? At first glance the bill has some punitive components that I wonder how effective they would be.  Is fining people for derelict properties the best option? Should there be first education and workshops offered to the owners. Help them to link with civic organization and funding to fix their properties? I'm glad that the conversation is happening and hope to be a part of it. Here is a link to their site www.preservevi.org and a video about their efforts.

1 comment:

  1. First, thanks for your interest in our Community Alliance. We seem to share a common vision of restorign our historic properties. Let me respond to some of your observations:

    The VI Realtor Association is helping organize the Alliance and providing a limited amount of administrative and management support -- but it's much more than a Realtor initiative.

    Our aim is to preserve properties on all three islands, even if our Legislative Chairman April Newland happens to be from St. Thomas. What affects one of us affects all of us.

    To that end we are reaching out to as many grassroots community, civic and business organizations on all three islands as we can to join us in promoting this initiative. We would genuinely appreciate your helping us get in touch with groups such as you mention.

    For example, we have very strong support from the residents in the Beacon Hill community on St. Thomas as their homes are next to some of the more "toxic" properties.

    As you re-read the bill you will see that it is not just about punitive measures, i.e. fines and penalities for homeowners who don't restore their historic properties. For example, there is also a hardship clause for those who cannot afford to do so (although we know that many of them can well afford it!).

    In addition, we would like to see the legislation amended to encompass a wide range of options for grants, creative financing, public private partnerships, etc. There is no one single method to get this done -- but get it done we must.

    We would agree with you that educating hte homeowners is a great idea, as is revisiting the current and at times overly tight restrictions on restoration projects. Some of the more passionate folks want them restored right down to the last splinter -- which in many cases is simply not economically feasibl -- and that's caused potential buyers and current owners to walk away form any idea of restoring them.

    (Just as a side note, the research study we funded found that these historic properties owe over $900,000 in delinquent, uncollected taxes.)

    We need to strike a proper balance between what we would like to see done to preserve our history and what is actually do-able from an economic standpoint.

    As a government studies professor of mine once said: "Compromise is the essence of democracy."

    Frankly, our major thrust is to get this issue back on the table for commuinty discussion and dialogue. Time is slipping away and we've spent nearly two decades dithering about how best to get preserve these properties. Meanwhile they continue to steadily crumbling away.

    Other islands like Curacao and Martinique are putting forth a great effort to revitalize their downtowns and historic districts. Why? Because they want to steer a larger share of Caribbean tourist dollars and our two million visitors their way. Can't blame them. So...teh mesage here is that we can't sit on our hands or rest on our laurels. We asolutely must stay competitive and ensure that our three historic areas are restored to the elegance and charm that started tourists and cruise ships coming here in the first place. It's not all about beaches and palm trees. Every Caribbean island has them.

    Thanks again for taking time to peruse www.preservevi.org. Hope to see you at hte hearing on Wednesday!
    Warm regards,
    Belton Jennings
    CEO, Virgin Islands Association of Realtors