Caneel Bay Update:  NPS Narrows Public Comment Scope to Two Options

Caneel Bay Update: NPS Narrows Public Comment Scope to Two Options

Good Morning, Good Morning!  It has been a LONG time since we did a proper Caneel Bay update.  And with the window closing rapidly on the expiration of the Retained Use Estate (the RUE is the 40-year Rockefeller contract) it is good to see some new traction on the part of the National Park Service (NPS) in these hopefully dwindling months of Caneel Bay Acquisitions, Inc. (CBAI) control of the once thriving resort property.  We probably won’t have any true answers about the next steps at Caneel Bay until the NPS makes their decision based on this final round of public comments (Spring 2023).  But this is one of the final steps on narrowing the scope of what’s next.  And NPS is on the hunt for more community input to add to this important decision-making process.

Caneel Bay Update: NPS Narrows Public Comment Scope to Two Options 1
A bit of background on Caneel Bay, for those of you who are just tuning in 😉

Additionally, you can take a peek at the following websites and articles to get yourself up to speed:

Before I get too far into the nitty gritty on these two new options that are the results of feedback from the first public comment period held in September and October of 2022, I want to run through the absolute importance of weighing in with your viewpoint.  And doing it in a way that makes an impact.

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I spoke with Executive Director of Friends of Virgin Islands National Park (Friends VINP), Tonia Lovejoy, yesterday to get her take on these options and her personal opinions on what her perfect world at this beautiful property would look like.  She really opened my eyes to the importance of this public comment process that we are currently in.  And I wanted to share her thoughts with you all as well before we head to the airwaves to submit our statements.

First, these public comment sessions are regulated by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).  Signed into law by former President Nixon in 1970, this was the first environmental regulation to come into play on a Federal level and is known in some circles as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.  For our purposes, I’ll keep this brief:

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So, citizen involvement.  That’s where we are with this public comment period that is federally mandated. And do you know what NEPA requires following this process?  That EVERY single comment made during this cyber (and snail mail!) gathering of community thoughts and visions is read and documented.  Neat huh?

Tonia also told me to remind all of you, and myself, that this isn’t a vote.  It’s not an “I want Option A” type of situation.  But instead a “Why do I want option A?” scenario.

“They are looking for specific critiques or concrete recommendations based on experience,” Tonia told me.

She went on to explain that buzz words and thoughtful solutions or concerns would be more heavily weighted and taken into account.  Keep it specific to highlight the positive or negative impacts within each action you do, or do not, side with.  In short (in my very longwinded way), this is not something we should just sit down and write.  This is the final public comment period before a decision will be made, one way or another, about the fate of the Caneel Bay property.  So, we need to do our due diligence to get it right.  And our opinions need to be clearly stated and well balanced with the thought of environmental concerns, cultural resources (the history of this land that has never been fully investigated!) and the community (visitors too) of St. John and the Virgin Islands as a whole in mind.  Not just that you want the old Caneel Bay back 😉

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Vintage Caneel Bay and North Shore views

Ok, so, these are the two options:

Alternative A- No Action

Upon expiration of the RUE on September 30, 2023, the NPS would assume management responsibility of the Caneel Bay area and would not issue any permit, lease, or concession contract to reestablish overnight use or provide resort-style services.  Any existing Commercial Use Authorizations (CUA) would be allowed to continue to operate at the Caneel Bay area until the expiration date noted on the existing permit. The NPS would minimally restore the site to allow for safe access by visitors through existing roads and trails, including safe access to beaches. The NPS would not provide visitor services, including overnight lodging at the Caneel Bay area under the no-action alternative. – NPS Caneel Bay Area Redevelopment and Management Environmental Assessment Newsletter

Option B- (this is the NPS preferred Alternative)- Redevelopment

Aims to balance enhanced public access, recreational opportunities, resource protection, and park operational efficiency while reestablishing an overnight experience on a portion of the original RUE that is consistent with the landscape as envisioned by Laurance Rockefeller. Alternative B also identifies two potential locations for future community spaces where residents, overnight guests, and Park visitors could more directly experience the local culture of St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands.- NPS Caneel Bay Area Redevelopment and Management Environmental Assessment Newsletter

Ok, so they both sound like there is going to be public access, right?  I guess they heard that portion in the first round of comments 🙂

If you break it down however, the real choice we need to make is do we support the redevelopment for overnight accommodations at Caneel?  Or not?

Because, in theory, either route they go, there will still be public access and the possibility of future community areas, concessions agreements, and so on.  Either way, we are going to have public access to some of Caneel Bay.  Which, in my mind, sounds incredible.

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The map of “Alternative B” Caneel Bay

Tonia and I started dream weaving over the phone yesterday.  Regardless of the direction things go, I asked her what her perfect Caneel looked like.  And I am not, out of discretion, going to get into all the details, but there were ideas being thrown around by us both that I’m sure are not original to this one-hour phone conversation…But they sound kinda cool, right?

  • A public parking area for other beaches with shuttle service.
  • Community gardens (Food sustainability would be neat, right?)
  • A FULL history of Caneel Bay museum (from the Taino to the plantations to the Rockefellers to today)
  • A community theater
  • A cultural museum
  • A few high-end restaurants and shops in addition to a local food vendor village
  • Picnic Pavilions for celebrations and gatherings
  • Marine services
  • Cultural demonstrations and educational tours at the ruins (Think Annaberg)
  • Live music and artist demonstrations

And, of the utmost importance:  Anything done on this property needs to preserve and protect the environmental and cultural resources that exist on this incredibly historic land.

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To view the original of this and the details behind much of the content of this article, view the NPS newsletter.

These are all things to think about as you weigh in with your own voice.  What can this land do for St. John and her residents, generational Virgin Islanders and visitors (again with the well balanced/all-inclusive talk)?

But this environmental clean-up is going to take a lot of time.  And a lot more resources.  Both human and fiscal.  And, in my mind, NPS might not have the capacity to get it done (that’s an opinion).  So, an outside developer for overnight accommodations could be the answer to accelerating the cleanup problem.

If Alternative B is the choice, we have no weigh in on the competitive bid that could go out to ANY developer who is interested in taking on the risk when the Request for Proposal (RFP) goes out this summer.  But we do have the opportunity now, to weigh in on the “specs” of what we each individually believe should be a standard for overnight accommodations at the future Caneel Bay.  Think sustainability, community impact, employee housing, visitor access and parking and what TYPE of lodging you would want to see there.

There is no shortage of luxury accommodations on St. John with a thriving high-end villa rental market.  Cinnamon is already providing an eco-tourism/camping situation.  What type of lodging (think somewhere in the middle) have you seen or experienced that would fit into this incredible environment?  What would appeal to overnight visitors from all walks of life (not just the 1%)?   I do not say these things to sway you necessarily.  But more so to urge you to think outside the box of what has been done, what is currently being done and what, if the world was your oyster as an experienced visitor, resident or Virgin Islander, is your perfect future for this incredibly important land.

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So, with all of this in mind, I urge you to make your educated, well-balanced voice of experience heard during this public comment period that ends on February 20.

Go the NPS site to submit your comment online by February 20.

OR, you can snail mail or hand deliver your comments with a postmark no later than February 20:

 Caneel Bay Redevelopment and Management Plan

c/o Superintendent Nigel Fields

1300 Cruz Bay Creek

St. John, VI 00830.

If you would like more information or have questions before submitting your opinion, there several in-person public meetings that will take place over the next few weeks:

  • Thursday, Feb. 2 – 5:30 p.m. – Gifft Hill School Atrium
  • Friday, Feb. 3 – 5:30PM – St. Thomas – location TBD
  • Saturday, Feb. 4 – 2PM – Guy Benjamin School (Coral Bay)
  • mid-February – Rotary Club luncheon – follow for details

20 thoughts on “Caneel Bay Update: NPS Narrows Public Comment Scope to Two Options”


  2. baffling to me that after 50 years of providing over 400 jobs to the community that option A is even being considered; why deny employment justice?

  3. Our family visited Caneel Bay every year for over 10 years. We grew to love the place and the people it employed – over 500 employees were forced out of a job because the US Park Department refused to extent the lease. I think any development plan should strongly consider the potential to again expand employment at Caneel Bay.

    The USA is so fortunate to have been given this beautiful property and the remains of a world class resort. People would come from all over the world. Many said they came back year after year because of it’s link to nature and because of it’s employees. I question the NPS’s ability to manage a world class resort. I’ve been to many many US Parks staying overnight and eating on site. All I got in return was food poisoning and bed bugs. The NPS needs to recognize what it does well and what it’s culture and structure makes impossible.

    I think the NPS should back away from developing Caneel Bay and turn the project over to a private developer who will need to spend over $100 million to rebuild a world class eco-resort with a long-term lease.

    Many today fail to recognize the benefits to St. John and the USVI flowing from the pockets of those who can afford to stay at a world class resort. In addition to the 500 or so direct employees, local restaurants, shops, taxi drivers, excursions, and the USVI tax revenues all benefit.

    Someone in power needs to open their eyes and not let this beautiful property sit idle. Meanwhile, the BVI is rebuilding and down island resorts are beckoning.

    • Well said , I agree with you , my kids grew up going to Caneel every year for 20 years the staff and property was wonderful. Rebuild it get the jobs back and start creating some new memories . Regards Frank R

  4. There are so many hurdles here.

    The NPS on STJ can’t take care of the existing facilities without the aid of the Friends of the National Park to fill in budget shortfalls. How is the NPS going to clean up and manage the 173 acres?

    No business is going to take on a short (10-20year) concession if they need to spend 100,000,000ish million to upgrade the facilities to operate a resort. Caneel isn’t like other NPS concessions where it’s a turnkey operation.

  5. St John currently has a staffing and a severe long term housing shortage. Turning peak season it’s difficult to find a vehicle to rent unless you. Oil many months in advance. I don’t see how we could even support another resort at this point.


  7. Have been following this story closely since Irmaria and when I read the latest (thank you for the breakdown NewsSTJ by the way), Option A sounds like it’s basically turning the Caneel peninsula into another Trunk Bay and option B is basically turning Caneel into perhaps a slightly nicer version of Cinnamon Bay with the campgrounds. As alluded to above, agree that there’s no way a CBI type organization will finance and operate a $100M resort without another 40-year REIT and would add that they wouldn’t do it without the ability to promote a decent amount of exclusive access to those beaches and land directly behind them for their guests.

    As it’s worded now, I don’t really see Option B as a realistic option. And while I don’t have a great handle on the potential economic impact, I think the argument that STJ can’t prosper without the jobs and economic stimulus created by a CB-style resort isn’t nearly has strong it was 5 years ago right after Irma seeing how STJ has survived without the resort for that entire time. I also wonder where the people who might fill those 500 jobs live or would live (though if you said they’d come from STT, that might carry some weight as I know STT took an economic hit when a certain really bad guy, who basically owned Little St. James island and employed a significant number of STT residents, “hung himself” in a NY prison a few years ago.)

    Nothing against those who’d like to see the world-class version of Caneel Bay Resort come back and I certainly won’t be upset if you do get your wish. But I can also see the benefits of Option A beyond just being more aligned with what Rockefeller originally intended with regard to the area going back to the NPS in 2023. I think expanding the number of great North Shore beaches run by the NPS would like mean less overall foot traffic per beach, hopefully lessoning the overall human impact on any one particular beach like Trunk.

    I like and appreciate a lot of the ideas Hillary came up with for how to use the space above, especially the ones that benefit the local community, but also would be thrilled if visiting the Caneel Beaches was a very similar setup and experience to going to Hawksnest or Francis. It would be like getting a complete second set of North Shore beaches to choose from.

  8. The previous Caneel management did NOT provide full time year round employment, because resort closed for more than 3 months a year forcing employees on unemployment. As long as there’s a possibility they could be awarded the development again, I want option A. Tonia’s dream plan sounds like a nightmare to me with an additional parking lot and upscale dining. I liked the lodging and concept at the old Maho and VIERS. Motivated volunteers provided some labor in exchange for accommodations. The kids have lost their camps and their opportunity to live and survive with nature.

  9. I love STJ and have been coming down here for about 15 years now and I enjoyed going to Caneel for dinner and walking around the property, but as much as I enjoyed it the cost of staying there was just not worth it, when you could rent a beautiful home. Would I like to see another resort on site? Yes.. I believe that Marriott or Hyatt could come in rebuild on the existing property allowing employees to work again on the property. I do like the idea of having a small amphitheater ( like red rocks in Colorado) so that locals can enjoy a night of music or theater under the stars, access to the beaches would be amazing since they are only accessible by water. I believe that it is time to give back to the island what was taken from them over the years by corporate greed

  10. Too many people opining who have no experience or real knowledge of the Caneel Bay Resort–as it once was, during Laurance Rockefeller’s time there…. his vision was perfect–or even now. Environmentalists, relax. We are lucky that Laurance’s desire was to return the resort to the NPS in 2023. I was a guest there from 1983 to 2001. I too once had to put my belongings on a sailboat to move to higher ground during a severe rainstorm, the area behind “the barracks” had flooded. Normal stuff.
    My husband Stu was a concessionaire to the Park from 1968 to 2001. He’s a good friend of the new director. He ran the whole watersports and sailing and ferry boat operation. We both knew Laurance and the many guests who came to the resort because of his vision. Many many life long friends made there. In 2006 we were married there and continued spending time at the resort, invited to play tennis with the guests and take them sailing. We had to leave the island in 2016, and by that time, so many of the guests and friends were disillusioned by CBA Inc’s only-for-profit running (or should I say ruining) of the resort.
    First, I take issue with the “1 percent” inference. I was 30 years old in 1983 and saved my money each year so I could return to this beautiful resort, with its understated elegance. Sure, there were celebrities and people much richer than I who stayed there, but we all came for the low-key vibe and respected and learned about the island’s history and culture; through many of the resort’s employees who were friends of Stu and became my friends. Stu used to take Laurance and Mary out for a sail on Malabar (way before “Captain Greg”, who took over his business). He would speak of his passionate desire to maintain the property with its low key elegance blending into nature. Stu and I both vote for Option B. There are many ‘locals’ on the island who want full access to all beaches, and have a chip on their shoulders towards the “1 percent”, or non-1 percenters like me, who would pay a good solid room fee to vacation there. Well, you’ve had that all along…..all the beaches are on national park land and you can get to them via a dinghy. Resort Staff would welcome those approaching from the water and just tell them they could not use the resort guests chaises. We want to see the far north area of the property, such as Turtle and Hawksnest, possibly Scott operated as a resort. It will bring revenue to the Vi, as well as provide jobs for many resident long-time St. Johnians who lost their jobs when Gary Engle (I’ve had to play tennis with him) took the insurance money and did nothing to repair the resort–just set up a few money-making concessions. The whole area around Caneel Bay and Honeymoon can be open to public access–with one or more restaurants. Now, can the National Park Service do this? We don’t think so. We hope that a reasonable resort operator can be given the ability to refurbish the northern areas and run it as an upscale resort. Those that can pay that $$$ should not be envied, they should be welcomed as they contribute to revenue for the VI and employment for some of those who for a lifetime depended on Caneel Bay as their income.

  11. Option A – NO
    Option B – too vague and NO, NPA won’t have the ability to manage and if a portion goes back to original RUE with CBAI then no, as it should be open to other developers to offer best deal, within the restrictions put forth which should include low density mixed use, eco resort development on portions and also include public availability and access for all beaches. I agree w Mary that the soils report will dictate what can be built and where and who is picking up the expensive tab for the environmental clean up needed before anything can move forward. $$$$
    Still too many questions and not enough specific options, but CBAI has shown that they are NOT the group to be part of this redevelopment, as they didn’t take care of the site environmentally the first time around. I also believe a separate development oversight group should be put together to ensure the vision and spirit of the development are being adhered to throughout the planning process and public input is put forth in all development decisions. Needs to be checks and balances especially if CBAI is involved. NPA Government management will take far too long for the project to move forward. RUE with new development group who agrees to be good partner and steward of the land for the next generation.

  12. This comment period offers a golden opportunity for suggestions related to the best and optimal use, short/long term, of St. John’s prime property. Priority should be given to protection of natural and human resources in whatever projects are considered not just the capabilities of private investment . If overnight facilities are built there are many factors to consider aside of the potential of private investment returns to pay for needed environmental research, cure and maintenance of Cannel Bay. Careless, much less unlimited deregulation as a means to increase feasibility of running this emblematic property of St. John is a risky alternative since most of us know how total privatization turns out in the long run beyond the initial promises to be a better benefactor than a joint venture of public/ private interests with proper, constant oversight of development decisions.

  13. We found St. John during a visit to Caneel. We kept coming back and on our third visit bought a house. We had the house for 37 years till hurricane damage. In all those years our kids and grandkids grew up on St. John. When our family grew too large for our 3 bedroom house we rented another house for family visits and one son stayed with his family at Caneel. We all enjoyed Caneel so much. We vote for B with the addition of housing for employees.

  14. In talking with a friend and trying to “follow the money,” I would not be surprised to see Option B win but think less about an overnight resort and more like, “STT Cruise Ship Passenger Playground.” We know cruise ships have to port on STT due to water depths. We know they have to let passengers off as part of the deal but it’s limited on time on island and usually designed more for shopping trips but there are a fair number of excursions too. There’s no question that one of the reasons Honeymoon got popular with the cruise ship crowd is proximity to Red Hook and the ability to bypass having to ferry over and taxi to Trunk. But with the “NPS Caneel” they can likely ferry 10x the amount of people to the old dock (which will be expanded) in Caneel Bay, drop them off, and now they have 6 beaches to choose from and can run that ferry back and forth all day. And the NPS will of course set up concessions, little tchotchke shops, facilities like showers, and other supplementary money making devices like water sports that can be promoted to the public as good jobs with a portion of the proceeds going to local coffers. But the big money comes from the Cruise ships who are paying for the access. Just a guess but if that means we get the beaches we’ve loved for a long time back to ourselves and just can’t go to some beaches we were never going to before on certain days of our trip, maybe not the worst thing.

  15. I didn’t have the privilege of meeting Laurance Rockefeller. However, I really appreciate his vision and generosity with regards to St John. It seems like he wanted to create a place that people could come to so that they could enjoy all the natural beauty of the island. When he did that, I’m assuming the island didn’t have thousands of condo/vrbo units to rent out to vacationers. If he could weigh in on this decision today, I suspect he might feel that there was enough commercial development/vacation lodging on the island and that he might favor restoration of the area in a way that allowed visitors to once again enjoy the natural beauty the area has to offer. St John is a very small island. I’m concerned that development of another resort would strain the labor force, put additional stress on the beaches/reefs and add to the growing ‘congestion’ on the island. When I say ‘congestion’, I’m referring to the fact that 12 years ago, I didn’t have to worry about a reservation at a restaurant before we even arrived, reserving a jeep months in advance or looking months out on a calendar to find a couple weeks available for a condo. Seriously, ever since covid, the island is packed. We were down 3 times last year, summer was packed, the off-season, still packed and New Years Eve…really packed.

    Therefore, I’m in favor of A or at least something that doesn’t involve a full-blown resort. I really like the ideas presented by Hillary. The place can certainly be developed into a resource that provides utility for residents and visitors (amphitheater, cultural center/museum, etc.), but not something that houses hundreds of additional guests and strains existing infrastructure.

    I appreciate everyone’s opinions and enjoy reading the different perspectives. Although we have considered becoming part-time residents, we are just visitors. With that said, I hope the residents of St John get what that desire!

  16. I’m writing to address the National Park Service 2023 Alternatives regarding the Caneel Bay property. The deadline for responding is March 6, 2023.

    Last year in January 2022 the NPS proposed four Alternatives. In brief they were:
    A. World-class luxury hotel, mid-range overnight experience at Hawksnest Beach, community center, Honeymoon and Hawksnest Beaches available to the public
    B. Similar to A except with luxury resort area expanded
    C. Similar to A except with luxury resort hotel like the historic Caneel Bay Resort, no community center
    D. No-Action, no luxury resort, NPS would restore the site to allow safe public access to trails and beaches

    Now in 2023 the NPS has distilled the above options to two Alternatives as they move to a final decision:
    A.Restoration of the site to allow trail and beach access, but no commercial development or overnight stays
    B. Commercial development, including overnight stays
    A and B originate and share one thing in common, that is greater public access to the property (and no luxury resort) … a seminal decision by the NPS.

    The choice between 2023 Alternatives A and B is not a simple one. Ask yourself the question: Do the residents and visitors to the National Park on St. John need another mid-range hotel?

    To answer this question, consider Cinnamon Bay Campground which provides a floor of sorts. A family size eco-tent (at a base rate of $195-$215/night in January) actually costs $212-$242 including the 12.5% tax. A cottage runs $242-$320/night. A mid-range hotel would be priced higher than Cinnamon Bay and likely be $350-$500/night. Such a price puts it in the range of the high-end villa rental market and the Westin Hotel.

    Ask yourself the question: Would the addition of another “Westin” benefit St. John? In the past three years we have seen a dramatic uptick in the number of cars on the island and much larger crowds at the beaches. To find a patch of beach you have to arrive before 9 AM these days. Alternative A would alleviate this problem by almost doubling the number of public accessible beaches on the north coast.

    St. John restaurants have plenty of diners which is good. But talk to the servers and you’ll hear rents are way up, so much so that many workers cannot continue to live on St. John. St. John currently has a staffing and severe long-term housing shortage for service employees. We must therefore consider the wisdom and sustainability of expanding the current mid-range ($350-$500/night) accommodations market.

    The overall infrastructure on St. John is currently being used to capacity. Increasing the number of people, cars, etc. on the island would stretch an already thin infrastructure to its limits.

    Alternative B dangles a hook before us. It is the community center, the amphitheater… they do fall within the purview and mission of the NPS. It will take time and fund-raising efforts to realize these important items, as well as cleaning up the environmental mess left by the recent caretakers of the property.

    Some people have suggested that a business entity be found to help defray the costs of the cleanup. But be careful. It is unlikely a business entity can be found that would run a hotel and also pay for cleaning up the present property. The costs will ultimately be borne by the patrons of the hotel. We need to be vigilant and not make Faustian-type deals with any private business entity because they are beholden to their shareholders (as they need be) and not the public. Negotiations with private concessionaires at Cinnamon Bay and Caneel Bay Acquisition, Inc. have been spotty at best and certainly do not have a history of good traction.

    It is high time to return the Caneel Bay property to its natural beauty to be enjoyed by the general public without encumbrances. Alternative A accomplishes that goal. It is in accord with our benefactor’s, Laurance S. Rockefeller, intentions that, come September 2023, the Caneel Bay property, all 150-acres, is to be turned over to the custodianship of the National Park Service, guardians of the public interest and trust.

    To submit your comments to the NPS, go to https://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=125733

    The deadline is March 6, 2023.

  17. I am a strong proponent of Alternative A for many of the reasons stated already in this blog. Is it at all possible that the NPS could have the wherewithal to achieve the environmental safety clean-up, demolition, and restoration needed before any alternative can be achieved?

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