By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
Premier Natalio Wheatley during last Friday’s press conference, offered a clearer insight into the saga between the Thomas Family and the government, regarding a dispute for use of the land at the Ellis Thomas Downs for horse racing that was ordered closed on Sept 8. The decision cancelled the Labor Day weekend races that were rescheduled from Sept 4 to Sept 18.
Expounding on the matter before the press and a live broadcast on radio and social media, Wheatley said that there was a 20-year lease signed between Ellis Holdings Ltd and the government in 2012, for $90,000 annually, for their portion of the track. There’s also an $80,000 for the portion owned by the Forbes family, for a combined $170,000 for lease of the track.
Within the lease with Ellis Holdings Ltd., Wheatley explained that there are provisions for a rent review every five years. The 2017 review didn’t take place because of Hurricane Irma’s destruction of the track and territory.
In the current rent review, Wheatley said that they came upon some “anomalies” that were noted by the Attorney General’s Chambers. He said that based on those discussions surrounding the anomalies, there was “some discontent” by the Thomas family, based on what was being said, in terms of the anomalies in the agreement.
“They indicated that what was said to them about these anomalies was that the track couldn’t be used,” Wheatley said. “But we are still in active negotiations with the family. Certainly the family has indicated they want an increase in the rent for the track. The increase in what was described to me in one instance would have been 15 times what we pay now. There are some questions about the sustainability of that. So these are some of the challenges we have.”
Wheatley further said that the existing agreement wouldn’t allow for pari mutuel wagering, something that would make it “more sustainable” to have horse racing in the territory. The existing agreement further made it difficult to have any third parties, and made it difficult to have other events happening at the track including cricket matches on the inside.
“All in all, we have to negotiate in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands and that’s what we’re seeking to do,” he said, also noting that he has been told of threats of violence against a member of the Thomas family. “I condemn any threats of violence to the family and I would like to see everyone be treated fairly. The government and the taxpayers need to be treated fairly. We want the family to be treated fairly. It’s a negotiation. Unfortunately we were not provided access to use the grounds, even though we have paid the $90,000 (rent) for the year. It’s unfortunate but we’re trying to manage the situation as best we can, in the best interest of everybody involved. Certainly any threats of violence we condemn and let’s try to see if we can get together as mature people and have some discussions as to how we move forward in the best interest of everybody.”
Efforts by Island Sun Sports to contact Marie Elaine Thomas-Griffin who represents the family for comment have been unsuccessful.