Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley said the lease agreement is referred to as Ellis Holdings Limited. He noted the agreement was valid for 20 years with a regular five-year rent review during that period. The Minister for Finance said the government has been paying approximately $90,000 annually to the Thomas family for their portion of the property while the Forbes family was pocketing nearly $80,000 yearly for their portion.
“So, in combination, the government was spending about $170,000 for lease of the track. Now, the one lease with Ellis Holdings, there are provisions in there for five-year rent reviews. As I said, it was signed in 2012 so 2017 would have been the rent review. That rent review did not happen because of course we know what happened in 2017 with the storms,” Dr Wheatley said.
“So, we came up on another rent agreement in 2022. So, in negotiating on this rent review, there were some anomalies noted by the AG (Attorney General) Chambers. These anomalies were noticed by the AG Chambers and there was a discussion on these anomalies, and it caused a big problem. There were some anomalies with the agreement and based on those anomalies, there were discussions and of course some discontent on part of the Thomas’ based on what was being said in terms of these anomalies in the agreement,” the Premier added.
The Finance Minister explained that as a result of what was said about the anomalies, the Thomas family indicated the track could not be used.
However, he said negotiations are still active with the family at present.
“Certainly, the family has indicated that they want an increase in the rent. In fact, the increase, what was described to me in one instance would be about 15 times what we pay now. There are some questions on the sustainability of that. So, these are some of the challenges we have. The existing agreement would not allow for us to do parimutuel, things like that. That would make it more sustainable to have horse-racing in the territory,” the Premier said.
“The existing agreement made it difficult to have any kind of third parties, [and] made it difficult to have other events happen at the horse racing grounds, for instance, maybe a possibility of having cricket played there. All in all, we must have people negotiate in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands,” he added.
Dr Wheatley said he heard there have been threats of violence against members of the family and he condemns those threats.
“I would like to see everybody treated fairly. We want the government and the taxpayers treated fairly; the family treated fairly. Of course, it is a negotiation and unfortunately, we were not provided access to use the grounds even though of course we have already paid for the year. We paid $90,000 for the year. It is unfortunate but we are trying to manage the situation as best as we can in the best interest of everybody involved and certainly any threats of violence, we condemn that and let us get together as mature people and have some discussions about how we move forward in the best interest,” the Premier said.