ST THOMAS, USVI -- Legislation which provides for the 17-month-long commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Transfer -- beginning in August of 2016 and ending in December of 2017 -- sponsored by Sen. Wayne A.G. James during his tenure in the 28th Legislature, may be exactly what the US Virgin Islands needs, as the territory struggles for economic direction and stability in the wake of the closing of the Hovensa oil refinery.
Act No. 7157, as amended by section 42 of Act No. 7241, provides for the establishment of the “Centennial Celebration Commission” and instructs the VI Legislature to begin appropriating funds “from time to time” for placement into the “Centennial Celebration Special Fund” so that by 2014, three years before the historic event, the territory will be poised to promote itself to the nation and the world in commemoration and recognition of the US Virgin Islands' 100-year-long affiliation with the United States of America.
“The sad reality is that despite the fact that we have been under the US flag almost a century, the average American has never heard of the Virgin Islands; isn't aware of their geographical location; and/or has no idea that they are a part of the union -- nor that the residents of the islands have shared in the nation's triumphs and tragedies, fought and died in its wars, and contributed to its legacy,” James said. “And given our present economic dire straits, it would be very unwise for us not to seize this rare opportunity to put the Virgin Islands -- for once and for all -- on the map of America. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is our 'Olympics.' Everyone knows that the 100th birthday celebration is the biggest one of all. After this, the next big one will be the 150th in 2067. But we can't wait that long. We simply can't afford to. We have to do this right; and we have to do this right now,” James said.
The quadricentennial celebration of Jamestown, Virginia, is perhaps the gold standard by which other US state and city anniversary celebrations are measured. In 2007, the town of Jamestown, celebrating its 400th anniversary as the first permanent British settlement in North America, generated $1.2 billion in sales; created 20,621 jobs; and generated $22 million in state and $6.4 million in local taxes. The celebration, which required 10 years of planning and covered a period of 18 months, promoted Virginia's tourism industry and increased exposure to Virginia as a tourist destination through editorial coverage that generated more than 12 billion media impressions, according to the official report on the commemoration.
“The cost-benefit reports of numerous anniversary celebrations of states, cities, and countries all over the world are widely available on the internet for all to see,” former senator James said.
“The key characteristics of the very successful ones are: advanced planning; public-private partnerships; proper financing; and a long celebratory period so that the economic benefits can be spread and realized over a significant period of time. Act 7157, as amended by section 42 of Act 7241, allows for one year and five months of celebrations,” he said. “We shouldn't just think of March 31, 2017. What were the economic benefits of the 150th anniversary of Emancipation? Not many: The focus was on one day, July 3, 1998. And we also dropped the ball for the 75th anniversary of Transfer in 1992: We started planning that celebration two months before -- in January of 1992. This celebration, the 100th anniversary of Transfer, is too big to be celebrated in one day. We need to learn from our previous mistakes and be much wiser this time.
“Since the Transfer Treaty was signed in August of 1916, I drafted the legislation for the celebrations to begin in August of 2016. And rather than ending on March 31, 2017, we will celebrate all the way to December 31, 2017, thereby incorporating all three carnivals, the Christmas holidays, Emancipation, July 4th, etc., into the celebratory period of the 100th anniversary of Transfer. This thing is big. And the islands need something big right about now,” James said.
Since May of 2011, when both James and Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christian were in Copenhagen, Denmark, to present lectures at a conference at the Danish National Museum, James has been in touch with the Office of the Delegate regarding the national tie-in for the 2016 – 2017 Centennial Celebration.
“With a project of this magnitude, we need each state on the state level, and the entire US Congress -- both the House and the Senate -- to do its part in celebrating our 100th birthday as part of this great nation,” James said.
“In the 17-month period between August 2016 and December 2017, we need the sitting president and vice president of the United States to visit the territory; the Danish monarchy and parliament must be invited; we need all 50 US governors and lieutenant governors to visit the territory; invitations must be extended to all members of the House of Representatives and to the Senate; state legislators from all 50 states must be invited to visit our shores; each state, through an education component, should educate its students about the history of the Virgin Islands -- the way school children across America are expected to know about each state in the union; each of the 50 states should have celebratory events on state soil in honor of the Virgin Islands. In some instances, protocol dictates that invitations to the territory be extended six months in advance; we cannot afford to breach protocol -- if we intend to capitalize on the media coverage surrounding certain high-profile visitors to the territory. In addition, delegations from the various island-nations of the Caribbean need to be invited to participate in the 100th-anniversary celebrations: Many of those islands partially owe their success to the education, career, and economic opportunities provided to their residents who migrated to the American Virgin Islands to better their lives. And to a large extent, the success of the American Virgin Islands is due to the great contributions by the people of the Caribbean islands,” James added.
“My legislation provides for a clearing house which would be in charge of scheduling all official Centennial events -- locally, nationally, and internationally -- so as to avoid overlap and duplication,” James continued.
“We are sitting on a goldmine here. The potential and possibilities are without boundaries, from commemorative souvenirs to unprecedented public relations opportunities to business investments as a result of heightened awareness of the territory. This is our unique opportunity to pick ourselves up and move forward. This is our opportunity to see to it that every man, woman, and child in America and Denmark knows about us here in the Virgin Islands. And that new-found name recognition is going to translate into increased tourism and money into the territorial coffers for generations to come,” James said.
Act No. 7157, as amended by section 42 or Act No. 7241, also provides a specific timeline for the establishment of the Centennial Commission as well as for the Commission's periodic reporting to the public. And according to an unnamed source in Copenhagen, the Danes will meet in two weeks to begin brainstorming on their plans for the 100th-anniversary celebrations.
“Hovensa is gone. Now, we are left with tourism and rum until our leaders find another major industry to add to the mix. But in the meantime, the 2017 Centennial Celebration, thanks to my legislation and the support it received from most of the members of the majority caucus in the 28th Legislature, is uniquely positioned to be the biggest thing to happen to Virgin Islands tourism since we began relying on tourism back in the 1940s,” James said.
“The future economic stability of these islands is going to depend on leaders who have the capacity and wherewithal to look beyond our tiny island-borders for solutions, inspiration, and investment opportunities,” he concluded.