An Update on Wharfside Village & Cruz Bay Beach

Cruz Bay beach, November 2017

The very first thing you see when you pull up to the ferry dock on St. John is the stretch of shops and restaurants that line the beach in Cruz Bay. For decades, tourists and residents alike enjoyed this idyllic scene with its beautiful rainbow hues. Today, however, that scene has dramatically changed as seven large sailboats remain slammed against the heavily-damaged waterfront complex. We’ve received numerous emails and messages regarding the status of this area. Here is everything we currently know…

For starters, the waterfront complex is comprised of three separate parcels – 4A, 4B and 4C. The building that houses St. John Spice, Beach Bum, Freebird and Pig & Rooster is parcel 4C. The area where High Tide, The Dock, Verace, Vibe, Turquoise Turtle and Sotheby’s are is parcel 4B. And the area where Waterfront Bistro, Joe’s Rum Hut, The Beach Bar, The Parrot Club, The Bowery, Into the Blue, Now and Zen, Bamboo, Island Cork and Cruz Bay Clothing Company are is parcel 4A.

Three entities own Wharfside Village. Parcels 4A, 4B and 4C are all separate owners.
Three separate entities own parcels 4A, 4B and 4C.

As of today, the majority of all three parcels is closed. Parcels 4B and 4C remain without power. The only business in this area that is currently open is Island Cork. It is located in parcel 4A, which is owned by Joe DeCourcy.

Two boats remain slammed against parcel 4A.
Two boats remain slammed against parcel 4C.
High Tide
High Tide

Parcel 4A, known as Wharfside Village, sustained a large amount of roof damage during Hurricane Irma which caused subsequent water damage throughout a majority of the businesses below. The mast of Dreamweaver – the sailboat that crashed into Joe’s Rum Hut – damaged the roof at Vista Mare (which is located directly above the Rum Hut). This caused additional water damage to the inside bar at the Rum Hut, which continues each time it rains. Three boats slammed into Waterfront Bistro, causing the roof to buckle in some areas. And while The Beach Bar came out unscathed in terms of boats, the bar was essential “pressure washed,” according to its owners, causing physical and electrical damage. The Parrot Club, located between Waterfront Bistro and Joe’s Rum Hut, had several inches of standing water following Irma and was completely destroyed. Finally, the majority of the residences and AirBNBs located on the second floor of Wharfside were completely destroyed due flooding which occurred when the buildings lost portions, if not all, of the roof.

The Beach Bar
The Beach Bar – Its awning was removed before Irma
The Bowery looking toward The Beach Bar
The Bowery looking toward The Beach Bar – The paint is being removed from the walls due to ongoing repairs.
Joe's Rum Hut
Joe’s Rum Hut
The mast of Dreamweaver destroyed the roof at Vista Mare. It was removed before this picture was taken.
The mast of Dreamweaver destroyed the roof at Vista Mare. That section of the roof was removed before this picture was taken.
The bar inside the Rum Hut was removed due to water damage.
The bar inside the Rum Hut was removed due to water damage. The tile was removed due to ongoing repairs.
Waterfront Bisto
Waterfront Bisto

You can see the areas that had roof damage in the image below, which was taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration roughly one week after Irma.

This aerial image was taken by NOAA roughly one week after Irma.
This aerial image was taken by NOAA roughly one week after Irma.

As we mentioned earlier, seven boats remain on the beach in Cruz Bay. One boat that washed up near the ferry dock was removed with the help of the Love for Love City Foundation. They were able to remove the boat as its owner signed her over to the organization and because it was made from wood, allowing the foundation to cut it up into pieces. The other boats are made of fiberglass, so removing them is far more difficult.

I spoke with the Coast Guard Wednesday regarding the removal of the boats, and it sounds like it will be a lengthy process. All of the beached vessels have been tagged, requesting information of each owner. The Coast Guard, who is working in partnership with DPNR, is attempting to contact the owners to see if they would like to keep or abandon the boats. Once they obtain that information, they will decide the best way to remove the vessel while causing the least amount of impact to the environment. For some, they may use a crane to lift a vessel and return it to the water. For those that are heavily damaged, they may put it on a barge and bring it to a staging point. For others, they may try to float it out. Each vessel will be treated differently depending on its situation, the Coast Guard said.

I also spoke at length yesterday with Joe DeCourcy, the owner of parcel 4A. He said that he is working diligently to rebuild Wharfside, although he does not have a specific timeline on when it will reopen.

“We sustained a ton of damage,” Joe said. “The fact of the matter is that we were hit by two category five hurricanes. We received wind damage, rain damage, salt damage. (We’ve been told that the waves went over Joe’s Rum Hut and The Beach Bar.) I’m not interested in rushing to complete something that’s mediocre. It doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help my tenants. It doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help the public. So I’m going to take my time to make sure that we plan properly and that we rebuild efficiently so we can sustain any future storm. I want to make sure we don’t have this type of damage ever again.”

Joe pointed out that Wharfside was built back in 1982 and that code compliance has changed dramatically since. So when the businesses or residences sustained water damage and the sheetrock was removed as part of remediation, it revealed the wiring and plumbing in many areas. That wire and plumbing, Joe said, is outdated and needs to be brought up to code.

So the roof needs to be repaired, plumbing and electrical need to be brought up to code, Joe’s Rum Hut needs to be rebuilt, The Beach Bar needs to be rebuilt, The Parrot Club needs to be rebuilt, the sailboats need to be removed… It’s going to take time.

The upside is that Wharfside will be back better than ever when it does reopen, Joe said. He began making repairs to the property during 2016 and had been continuing to do so prior to the storms. They include new tile throughout, resurfacing the walls with shiplap siding, reconfiguring some of the business spaces and adding additional restrooms for the restaurants. (Thank goodness for additional restrooms!)

“I understand that this is a displacement,” Joe said. “It’s sad. It’s sad for all of us. The last thing I want right now is for Wharfside to be closed. But we have to be smart with this and we have to think about the big picture. I want to look at this longterm, not a short fix. We need to look longterm for the community.”

We also chatted with Kelli Thomas, owner of High Tide, yesterday. She stated that they do plan to reopen, but that date has yet to be determined.

We will keep you all updated on this folks.

28 thoughts on “An Update on Wharfside Village & Cruz Bay Beach”

  1. Great article. I’ve been looking at pictures of Wharfside since the storm and tended to think “that’s not too bad, the buildings survived” and even the Beach Bar’s chairs were there. But you keying in on the water and salt damage really puts it all in perspective.

  2. Thank you! Sad as it is, it’s nice to be a part of the conversation. We love StJ and hope to return as soon as we get an all clear.

  3. I think of all the times I’ve spent just hanging out at the Beach Bar in the evenings and how calm and peaceful it was. To think the waves “went over” the Beach Bar and High Tide helps you realize how powerful this storm really was.

  4. Thank you for this update and for keeping visitors who love the island informed on progress after the hurricanes. I feel awful for the people who made their living working for these establishments.

    • I have been wondering the same thing. I emailed Patrice, no word back . I am quite sure I saw a photo of the remains of the 3 cottages taken from a helicopter. It looked like they were demolished.

      • Thanks Pam, I have tried to call and there is obviously no line as it does not go through. No response on my e-mail. Would love to know if you find out anything.

        • Any updates on Samuel Cottages? Anyone heard from Patrice? We stayed there three times in the past. Such a kind soul Patrice is and a gem of a place to stay.

  5. Thank you so much for the updated news – So sad but I know Mother Nature makes no excuses and STJ is strong, beautiful, resilient & positive and buildings can be rebuilt. Hope remains and I can’t wait to visit the new & improved! Stay strong STJ – all your fans are rooting/praying for you!!

  6. Thank you for your updates Jenn. On one hand I know its healthy to get those boats removed; on the other hand, for those of us that make it back to STJ, it lets us see in person some of how much you all have been through. Also, love the approach to reconstructing so it makes it through the next storm, b/c reality is there will be more.

  7. Updates like this,with all the details about what is really involved in clean up and reconstruction, are so important .Helps put things in perspective. Do you know of any businesses that have decided not to reopen?

  8. Great article and it looks like following Bloomberg’s advice post Sandy to rebuild strong is the way to go. Unfortunately, that may not be as fast as we wish it was.

    How are the locals doing with their homes? If they didn’t have Insurance does FEMA help them rebuild? My heart goes out to those who have called St. John their home.

    If February comes and we can’t return until after our usual Feb vacation, I am going to donate
    as much as I possibly can. I am going to donate as if I was on St John going out to dinner and being a tourist.

  9. Yes, there is a lot of FEMA support such as:
    Emergency Unemployment benefits
    Monthly Housing Allowance for displaced
    FEMA disaster rebuilding loans
    Food Stamps

    I helped a long time local friend and his 8 year old son that lost everything sign up last month. But things are moving very, very slow and he has yet to see any benefits paid since his application in late Oct.

  10. Jenn, is Morgan’s Mango going to rebuild? It was in bad shape after the storm. I dream of another Lobster Night (every Tues/Sat) in the future!

  11. We so love reading these updates! Its going to be a long long winter in Vermont, 2018 would be our 13th year coming to Saint John, so sad that it might not happen this year. Happy to hear Morgan’s is reopening soon too. It is amazing how much progress there has been.

  12. Thanks Jenn for this story. I have wondered about what was going on with Wharfside, and I had no idea how involved the process is to move those boats.

  13. Great update – hoping Wharfside owners had insurance – seems like many businesses did not, given the many “go-fund-me” pages I’ve seen. Granted it’s super expensive, but we always had it while living on St. John as a small business. If not, maybe this is why things are taking longer – just a thought.

  14. I find it amazing that these boats are still on the beach. Most of those old sailboats were essentially a floating homeless park. The boats have little or no value. They could have been carefully chopped up and removed weeks ago. Instead business owners have to deal with this trash up against their buildings to protect the ownership rights of these piece of crap boats? Really!? It’s also a public eyesore. How about banning long term sleeping aboard boats in STJ harbors? That would put an end to this destruction in the next major hurricane.

      • Banning live aboards is not a solution. Residents and business owners live on their boats. It’s an island, boating is a big part of life here. Keeping a better eye out for abandoned boats? Yes. We had a housing shortage prior to this, now it’s worse. Eliminating floating housing does not help.

  15. I’m in agreement with above poster Red that all live aboard boats should be permanently banned. Many of the live aboard people are borderline homeless and many have substance abuse issues. These people neeed to be living normally on land in an apartment and getting help, not camping out in squalor aboard junk boats. I call for a ban on non-commercial boats mooring more than 30 days in STJ harbors. #banlivabrdsSTJ

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