Your EDC Dollars At Work?
That wasnâ€™t a rumor you heard, Sen. Nellie Oâ€™Reilly.
You just didnâ€™t ask quite the right question.
Listen to this Q&A between Oâ€™Reilly and Commissioner of Finance Angel Dawson Friday, during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, Â about the Estate Thomas theater project that was “rumored” to be angling for public funds or benefits.Â
The 4D Theater, among whose noted business partners include Governor John deJonghâ€™s Chief of Staff Pamela Berkowsky and her husband, Adam Shapiro, MD, might not be in front of the PFA yet â€“ but they applied for Economic Development Commission benefits last January,Â before their zoning request was recently approved by the Legislature.
Here we go again.
The project is a 300 seat IMAX type theater, combining 3D films with the addition of theater seats that move and vibrate to enhance the effects of the 3D imagery. It is to be located on land just above Havensight on St. Thomas, land that was recently rezoned by the Legislature.
We remember that zoning hearing. We remember a resident coming to testify to express her concerns about the noise, the congestion, the disruption to residents who live in the area if this complex was built.
We also remember testimony from the developers, assuring everyone that this was really a promotional facility for the Virgin Islands, aimed primarily at cruise passengers visiting the island during the day, and as such would cause no ongoing issues for the nearby residents. The films would be primarily films that showcased the Virgin Islands, and other uses would be the showing of educational films.
At that hearing, Oâ€™Reilly asked whether this theater would be showing the types of films showed at the existing movie theaters in the Territory.
Oh no, was the reply.
Things certainly have changed.
Shapiro (remember, husband of deJonghâ€™s Chief of Staff Berkowsky) is the sole General Partner of â€śJaminDoodle, LLC,â€ť the limited liability corporation that is the sole partner of VI 4D – of which Shapiro is a co-manager with Wesley A, Wenhart, Project Manager. Â 49% of JaminDoodle is owned by the PBB Trust â€“ for which, conveniently, Berkowsky serves as â€śsettlorâ€ť â€“ basically the trust manager.
JaminDoodle was incorporated in October, 2009; VI 4D was incorporated in November, 2010.
And, according to its own paperwork, the complex that was promoted as an educational and tourist focused facility now states that it will, â€śnot only function as a tourist attraction but also as a movie theater and gaming areaâ€ť including â€śfirst run Hollywood releases.â€ť
The complex is applying for EDC benefits as a â€śCategory III Recreational Businessâ€ť on St. Thomas.
And just to close the circle, the person who signed off on recommending the application for benefits was none other than then EDC Legal Counsel and now candidate for Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, in April of 2012.
Attached below are the relevant documents including the Application for EDC Benefits and the Articles of Incorporation. Theyâ€™re worth the time to review. Weâ€™ve separated the page of Job Titles and Salaries â€“ and youâ€™ll see just how many local Virgin Islanders stand to make any real money from their jobs at the new theater.
There was a great deal of conversation at the Senate Finance Committee hearing on Friday about the payback (or lack of same) the Territory receives from the millions of dollars it provides the EDC annually to generate new business revenues for the Territory.
And in light of the critical need the Territory faces for substantial revenue producing businesses in this time of dire financial need, we struggle to understand how this project fits the bill. The proposal projects $7 million in revenue in the first five years and $1 million annually in wages to â€ślocal workers.â€ť
A 300 seat theater supposedly aimed at cruise ship passengers. Do we really think that travelers who come to our balmy shores really want to spend time in a movie theater that shows them what the islands look like?
And yes, the proposal contains language about offering educational programming and financial contributions to the community â€“ but what will its principal source of income really be?
Itâ€™s probably not those films of the â€śflora and faunaâ€ť discussed in the proposal or the National Geographic films theyâ€™re working on the rights to show.
And what about those residents who were assured that this was to be primarily a daytime business â€“ who are now faced with the prospect of a full-scope theater complex, showing first run Hollywood movies and complete with â€śgamingâ€ť â€“ which means that it will be a video game haven as well as a movie destination.
But hey, when youâ€™re the Governorâ€™s Chief of Staff and your husband is a doctor, leases and zoning and tax benefits are justÂ more advantages of the chosen few.
Way to go EDC.
Your tax dollars at work!
(Documents originally posted on DemManSay.com)