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Senators hope bill will help Hollywood stardust rub off on V.I. - News on Astini News

ST. CROIX - Senators expressed enthusiastic support Tuesday for a proposed bill that hopes to entice music and film production in the territory through significant tax benefits, but they held off on acting on the legislation until a few tweaks have been made.

The bill came before the V.I. Legislature's Committee on Economic Development, Technology and Agriculture for discussion Tuesday - a committee meeting in which two of the three bills originally on the agenda were removed.

The Sustainable Tourism Through Arts-Based Revenue Streams Act - or STARS - as presented Tuesday would significantly expand the role, authority and name of the V.I. Tourism Department's Office of Film Promotion, making it the Office of Film-making and Music Promotion. The expanded responsibilities would include promoting the music industry, much the way it already does the film industry. It would also oversee the approval process and the implementation of the tax benefits.

However, the main sticking point was whether that office is the proper agency to oversee the program, instead of the V.I. Economic Development Authority. One of the bill's authors, attorney David Nissman, said the idea was to weed out some of the bureaucracy and make it "one-stop shopping."

"If we make this complex, this isn't going to work," Nissman said. "The point is, this shouldn't be a complicated process."

With the V.I. Economic Development Authority involved, the approval process would go through four layers of government: the V.I. Tourism Department, the Economic Development Authority staff, the Economic Development Commission and the governor.

"The process that they've set up, and the system they've set up is not capable of acting quickly," Nissman said.

However, Economic Development Authority legal counsel Stacey Plaskett said the process had become expedited in recent years.

"We guarantee that a decision will be made within 90 days," she said, referring to completed applications that arrive. Other laws also allow the authority's executive officer certain powers to authorize aspects of applications, she said.

"A more appropriate agency for implementing tax benefits would be the Economic Development Authority, through the Economic Development Commission," Plaskett said.

Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, the committee chairman, suggested a merger so that the Tourism Commissioner and the Economic Development Authority's chief executive officer would be the only two signatories required for approval.

"I think that would be an excellent idea to streamline the process," said the bill's other author, Laurent Alfred, who is an attorney, owner of a music studio and a musician. "I think we're comfortable with that as long as it's streamlined."

But the bill's main sponsor, Sen. Louis Hill, said the reason the authority was left out was to create a "flexible incentive, aimed at the artistic and creative community, encouraging them to use the Virgin Islands for composing, producing and filming music and film projects."

The music and film scene already has done well despite the bill's proposed incentives, which are similar to those offered to EDC companies, Nissman said.

Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson Doty said the incentives would certainly help expand the current film and music activity in the territory.

"I believe the Virgin Islands have the potential to become a music and film mecca in the region and the world," Nissman said. "All we need is the legislative intent, structure and support to offer the stars of the music and film world the right reasons to come here to work. And when they do come, like powerful stars, they will bring all of the beneficial things that are in their orbit - like spending power, publicity and that powerful unquantifiable element in the world of music and film: buzz."

The buzz surrounding the bill has created a stir. Country music producer Buddy Cannon already has visited the territory and said that he plans to come for recording sessions with "major artists" once the bill becomes law, Albert said. Stars like the "anonymity" of working in the territory - generally being able to move freely without flocks of people or cameras following them around, he said.

Another issue still up in the air is funding. While the Tourism Department's role would be expanded, no additional funding sources had been identified in the bill, Albert said. It was an issue of concern raised by Doty and one that Albert said would need to be addressed, though it would be difficult given the current financial situation, he said.

All senators present expressed their support for the measure's intent, with Malone saying he wanted to get the kinks worked out before sending the bill on to the Senate's Rules and Judiciary Committee. He said he planned to put the bill back on the agenda for a meeting in mid-November.

After the meeting, Nissman and Alfred met with Plaskett and other Economic Development Authority representatives to hash out details.

- Contact Daniel Shea at 774-8772 ext. 457 or email

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