As you know, I absolutely hate what’s going on at Caneel Bay. So I was thrilled last July when I was contacted by a New York Times reporter who wanted to look into why the former first-class resort resort remained shuttered years after the hurricanes.
Emily Palmer and I met at La Tapa one Thursday night last summer. Emily explained how she just finished covering the El Chapo trial and that the Caneel assignment was a bit of a break for her. I laughed knowing how contentious Caneel has become, had a sip of wine and started telling her everything I knew.
The story was originally planned to run for the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma. I explained how this island had worked so hard for tourism to bounce back and I begged her not to frame the story in a way that would cause guests to second-guess visiting the island. She assured me she would do the island justice and get the facts out.
The story was delayed several months, and finally landed in the New York Times today. And Emily did do us justice. She is shedding a national, and perhaps international, spotlight on an issue that’s been plaguing this island for well over two years. Because of copyright laws, I can only print a bit, but here are a few highlights…
When discussing Rockefeller’s thoughts on the future of Caneel Bay, Emily wrote:
The resort changed hands several times, eventually causing even Mr. Rockefeller concerns. He wrote to the Park Service director in 1988: “It is my sincere hope that you would not consider granting any request to extend the Retained Use Estate at Caneel Bay.” He added that his “intention and expectation” was for the R.U.E. to expire by 2023.
And then there is this gem stated by Gary Engle, the principle of CBI Acquisitions, the company that currently holds the agreement to operate Caneel Bay. This is what he said with regard to the insurance money he received. And if you recall, we exposed last November how he opted to grossly underinsure his property by more than half of its estimated value.
“I could take that money and walk away, or I can take that money and reinvest and maybe put up a little more capital and turn this into something special,” Mr. Engle said. “Without Caneel Bay, St. John is going to implode.”
There is so much I could say to that, but I will refrain…
Back to Emily’s story in today’s edition of the New York Times. Emily began by writing:
Browned palm leaves fan over the white-sand beaches of Caneel Bay Resort. Peeling paint buckles on the exterior walls of roofless cabins. Inside, white curtains, still knotted, drape like ripped cobwebs from windows, and mold-matted mattresses sag without their frames. A back door swings wide.
Long considered the crown jewel of St. John, a small emerald island found among the U.S. Virgin Islands and cut with curved bays and set against the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the 170 secluded acres of Caneel Bay once drew presidents, movie stars and literary icons — from John Steinbeck and Lady Bird Johnson to Meryl Streep and Mitch McConnell.
More than 15,000 people annually visited the property nestled within the Virgin Islands National Park and home to a handful of endangered species. The four-star eco-resort, established by the Rockefeller family, was one of the first in the United States.
“It was a first-class experience without the pretentiousness of the rest of the world,” said Bob Rice, a guest from Needham, Mass., who stayed at the property with his family eight times. “You just got nature at its best.”
Two weeks in September 2017 changed that. Hurricanes Irma and Maria — both Category Five storms — flogged St. John, ripping apart structures and flooding what remained.
Even as other accommodations in the region have reopened, Caneel Bay remains in tatters. Those who have ventured inside recall a newspaper on the front desk dated September 2017 — just before the first storm. Scheduled weddings marked the chalkboard, they say, and rats could be seen scurrying across the wine cellar floor.