July 27, 2022

Incremental Steps to Big Impact in Frederiksted

Courtney Spearman
Virginia Clairmont from Clean Sweep Frederiksted (CSF) and CIRD team members admiring a local mural commissioned by CSF.

CIRD’s May 2022 local design workshop in Frederiksted, St. Croix, focused on reviving and reimagining a historic fish market. But far from being a culminating event or end point, the CIRD workshop is one notable stop along the way to broader community revitalization in this beautiful and historic small town. Led by local non-profit Clean Sweep Frederiksted in partnership with the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources' Division of Fish and Wildlife, the project illustrates the value of incremental steps and working closely with community members.

Reviving a Community Anchor

The Frederiksted Fish Market, established in the 1700s, is historically one of two commercial fishing points on the island of St. Croix. The current open-air structure is humble – a concrete floor, sloped metal roof, open sides for ventilation, and concrete tables – and sits adjacent to an equally utilitarian boat launch and pier which fishers use on a daily basis. The market has not been used for selling fish in many years, and has fallen into disrepair due to vandalism, loitering, and general neglect.

Frederiksted Fish Market's early days.

But the site is significant, a hub for community gatherings and celebrations in the distant past and recent decades, and an important place for harvesting and selling what is arguably the island’s most notable natural resource: fish. The revitalization of this surf-side fish market could lead to an economic resurgence for the island’s fishing industry, with follow-on effects for Frederiksted’s restaurants and other local businesses as well as local community members. As it stands now, there is a strange irony in the challenges that chefs and local cooks face in purchasing the daily catch, with limited and inaccessible public places for fishers to sell their fresh-caught fish.  

For many years there have been discussions, plans, and disparate efforts to revive the market as a thriving outdoor fish and produce venue and a safe and welcoming place for community gathering. The most recent effort – led by Clean Sweep Frederiksted (CSF) – is notable for the partnerships that undergird it. Working hand in hand with the Division of Fish and Wildlife (part of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Government of the Virgin Islands) which owns the site, CSF has gained the attention of elected officials, anchor businesses, community members, and perhaps most importantly, the fishers who would like to use the market. This collaborative network was the foundation for the CIRD workshop hosted on May 4-6, bringing together these diverse groups and individuals to share their needs, requirements, and aspirations for a new market structure.  

CIRD's team talked with Frederiksted fishermen at an evening community meeting and local elected officials over lunch during the May 4-6 workshop. Photos by Courtney Spearman

Building on Basics

The current momentum behind the fish market revitalization did not happen overnight. Clean Sweep Frederiksted, led by local native Virginia Clairmont, is a grassroots effort started in 2014 to beautify the Frederiksted historic district in order to improve quality of life and economic opportunity for local residents. Aptly named, Clean Sweep Frederiksted’s first efforts were focused on cleaning up litter and debris in the area, a chronic problem that was resolved with energetic volunteer engagement that has led to dedicated city resources. Moving beyond trash, cleanup efforts have transitioned into bench painting and repair, public art displays, and a plethora of murals painted on vacant walls and derelict buildings. Future neighborhood plans include restoring historic buildings, but in the interim these cheerful, boldly colored arts interventions show visitors and more importantly, local community members, that people are paying attention and care about these places.

CSF at work in Frederiksted: adding bright blue paint to the support columns of a derelict building, and commissioning vibrant murals at the local STEM high school. Photos by Courtney Spearman

Clean Sweep Frederiksted has also focused on youth engagement in places where young people spend the most time – their schools. Most recently, partnering with St. Croix Educational Complex High School, CSF has commissioned local and visiting artists to create inspiring and energetic murals. Students can see themselves in these lively paintings, and school administrators have reported an immediate improvement in debris cleanup, student behavior, and general school and community pride.  

Along the way, CSF has mobilized a sizable volunteer base and built trust with local community members. This step by step approach, building on basics which lead to bigger projects, is what enabled such diverse community engagement for the CIRD workshop, and will hopefully lead to a fish market that serves the wide-ranging needs of the community.  

Next Steps

Following the workshop, the CIRD team is generating a high-level concept plan for the new fish market, which will give Clean Sweep Frederiksted and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources a plan to take forward into detailed design, and ultimately construction, over the course of the next several years.  

There is a colloquialism in the Virgin Islands – “come soon” – which refers to development and other forms of support that are promised but are slow to materialize. The fish market has long been a “come soon” project, but our hope is that the current momentum will lead to an authentic and community-responsive implementation in the near future. The Department of Planning and Natural Resources has lined up funding to implement the fish market concept, a huge and catalytic first step toward building community trust that these ideas can become reality.  

Frederiksted's waterfront promenade and long deep-water pier. Photo by Courtney Spearman

The fish market partnership is just one example of forward-looking activity in the area. Several government departments are working on nearby development projects, and the spirit of collaboration between departments and with community organizations is growing. The fish market is adjacent to a public housing development which is slated for redevelopment, and a public waterfront park sorely in need of rejuvenation is getting some attention. Up the street is Fort Frederik, an iconic historic landmark that is the focus of renewed community development efforts, along with the long pier and deep-water port that will welcome more cruise ships in the near future. Each of these projects are owned by different entities with a wide range of priorities and demands on their resources. But as with all of CIRD’s local design workshops, we hope that our small piece of work at the fish market will be catalytic and generative, a step along that way leading to further developments that improve quality of life and economic vitality in this remarkable rural community.