The tall beige fence surrounding Frank Powell Park, above, has shut long-time food vendor Sheila Liburd out of business.
Not only has the fence surrounding Frank Powell Park in Cruz Bay made walking near the waterfront difficult and dangerous and forced the St. John Arts Festival to be relocated, the obstruction has also closed down a beloved St. John eatery.
In anticipation of renovations to the park, government contractor Apex Construction erected a tall beige fence around the entire park including the sidewalk on the waterfront and bandstand on Monday, February 7. The fence will remain in place until renovations are completed, which is scheduled to be some time in June, according to government officials.
With no sidewalk to use, pedestrians have been forced into the street, along with cars, safari taxis and buses. And the fence has also shut down Sheila’s Pot.
Sheila Liburd has been serving up delectable local fare near the bandstand in the Cruz Bay park for more than 30 years. Late last month, however, she was asked to relocate and then informed, via her attorney, that she might not be able to reopen.
When arriving on St. John, visitors and locals are greeted by a tall beige fence surrounding Frank Powell Sr. Park which also blocks the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians into the street.
In a letter from Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams, dated January 26, but not delivered to Liburd until January 31, she was asked to relocate her vending business no later than February 5.
“In an effort to assist you in acquiring another location to conduct your vending business, an alternative site in the vicinity of Nature’s Nook has been identified and recommended,” Williams wrote. “Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. Any inconvenience is deeply regretted.”
Liburd, however, had no intention of relocating. Instead, when word spread of her imminent closure, a petition circulated across St. John and garnered more than 300 signatures to keep Sheila’s Pot open in its current location.
“I got five days notice to pack up and leave,” said Liburd. “This is my busy season and my livelihood. They want me out of the park.”
No resolution was reached and Liburd had no choice but to watch her vending business be blocked off by the fence on February 7. On February 14, Governor John deJongh visited St. John for meetings and Liburd approached him with her petitions.
“I talked to the governor for a short while, but he didn’t really say anything,” said Liburd. “We were going to talk more when he got out of the meeting. But I didn’t see him again.”
Several phone calls from St. John Tradewinds to Government House requesting comment went unanswered last week.
Renovations to the park are needed and part of the work entails burying underground utilities, explained St. John Administrator Leona Smith.
“The park is being renovated and everyone had to be out of the park,” said Smith. “You can’t be in there when they are doing the underground electricity. The renovations are long-needed and it’s the first thing you see when you get off the boat.”
The park’s central Cruz Bay location, is exactly why renovations should have been planned for off-season, according to St. John homeowner Ronnie Lee.
“Why are they doing this now at the height of season?” he asked. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
The government’s failure to give Liburd adequate notice is “terrible,” Lee added.
“To shut her down virtually overnight is awful,” he said. “I think it’s terrible. She has been around for so many years with local flavor and has been frequented by locals and tourists.”
“Sheila belongs in the park,” said Lee.
When Liburd’s attorney Henry Smock tried to express those sentiments to Commissioner Williams, however, he was informed of several “areas of concern” regarding the location of Sheila’s Pot, according to Liburd.
“This is not just for four months, this is for ever,” said Liburd. “They want me out of the park permanently.”
After three decades in business in the same location, and with her strong faith, Liburd believes that everything will work out, she explained.
“I believe in God and have faith that something will be worked out,” Liburd said. “When you are in a place for 10 years, it is supposed to be grand-fathered in. This year will be 32 years I am here, November 8.”