On January 18, Virgin Islands National Park announced a proposed set of concepts that could guide the future redevelopment of Caneel Bay…And they want your input!
We are all wishing that Caneel Bay could be back in full action immediately! Every person who comes sailing with us lets out a long sigh filled with “I miss Caneel!” as we pass by the still abandoned resort. Well, we do too. And so does the community! But maybe Caneel Bay, in the way it evolved, wasn’t EXACTLY what the community needed. OR what Rockefeller himself had intended when he set up the Retained Use Estate (RUE)…The initial agreement written up for NPS and hoteliers to follow as a framework for what he saw for the future of the property….
The big catalyst that I see in the Caneel Bay of recent history versus that of yesteryear is the community access to the property! Adult and senior residents who were children or young parents at the inception of Caneel remember playing on the beaches and on the property and Sunday brunches at the restaurant. Under the most recent management, those pieces of community integration on the property seemed to have tapered off. Making it more of an exclusive resort type situation intended for only those who could afford to dine at the high end restaurants and stay in the modest hotel rooms with a steep price tag on the incredibly beautiful property. A property that holds a rich history and cultural significance for native Virgin Islanders who could no longer use it except as a form of income.
The NPS process over the past year has involved an extensive amount of community inclusion and weigh-in for their upcoming plans to open a competitive bid for concessions on the property, including the re-development of the resort accommodations. And, I for one, am impressed (for the most part) with their following list of alternatives:
- Alternative A— The NPS preliminary proposed action balances enhanced public access, recreational opportunities, resource protection and park operational efficiency, while re-establishing a world-class overnight experience at a luxury resort. Additionally, the concept calls for a mid-range overnight experience at Hawksnest Beach separate from the resort, and the NPS would provide space for an organization to design, fund, construct, and operate a community destination, such as an amphitheater, museum or cultural center.
- Alternative B offers a similar management approach to Alternative A, except the resort area is expanded and a mid-range overnight experience and public access at Hawksnest Beach is removed.
- Alternative C includes all resort zone elements identified in Alternative A, and the resort zone is similar to that of the historic boundaries of the Caneel Bay RUE. No visitor services would be provided at the site for non-resort guests, and the NPS would not provide a community space at the Caneel Bay area.
- No-Action Alternative assumes sole management by the NPS upon expiration of the RUE in 2023. The NPS would not issue any permit, lease or concession contract. The NPS would minimally restore the site to allow for safe access by visitors through existing roads and trails, including safe access to beaches.
I am going to apologize for my next items of discussion. They are solely my opinion based on following this story since Irma wiped out the resort and the developments of information that have followed its closing. So, if you aren’t one for an opinionated rant….skip to the bottom? 🙂
I, for one, am a huge supporter of options A or No-Action. Option A offers community and visitor (not just on-site guest) inclusion for recreational activities and puts NPS in the center of the goings on out there (allowance of oversight might have put us in a very different place with Caneel at present day). A museum and amphitheater with resident oversight would be an AWESOME addition to the property and the transparency of St. John cultural resources for visitors, school kids, residents, etc. I also feel like a mid-range accommodation would be incredible for those who wish to enjoy the beauty of the property but are unable to swing $1k/night for the swankier accommodations. In short, Option A seems the most inclusive option for both residents and visitors of all walks of life.
Otherwise, I unfortunately lean towards the No-Action option. The lack of the resort is a huge downfall, I agree, but the property was intended for residents and visitors to enjoy. For the land to be preserved and open to the community. And, if a hotelier can’t rest easy with that being an option then….
Now, before you jump on the, “but the community needs those jobs” train (which I hear far too often), let’s first jump on “the where are the workers going to live” train. Last I read, 250 employees were working at Caneel preceding the storms of 2017. Currently, due to an influx in tourism and lack of long-term housing, the EXISTING businesses on island can’t even find enough staff to open their doors seven days a week. Oh, and how many villas, new hotels and Air BnB spots get a direct hit when the resort opens their doors? I mean maybe that IS a solution to the housing problem, but how many people can continue to afford their homes based on no occupancy or long term rentals over short term? I’m just VERY tired of the whole, the island needs the jobs conversation as it pertains to Caneel Bay Resort….Like many other places, our community needs many things, but jobs ain’t one of em! End Rant.
Anyways, thank you for bearing with me through that. LOL…I needed to say it out loud. 🙂 IF you have a differing opinion, we can still be friends and YOU can tell NPS about it!
Now, the thing to remember here is that the above options are not defined in black and white or as an either/or type of situation. What they are looking for is constructive weigh in on ALL of the options. The end result may look like one of these, it may look like a combination of these or, it may end up being something all together different. Regardless of the outcome, NOW is the time to voice your opinion on the future of Caneel Bay with the best interest of social, historical, economical and environmental issues of the St. John community in mind.
“We developed a preliminary range of options that prioritize the protection of resources and expand public access to Caneel Bay,” said Virgin Islands National Park Superintendent Nigel Fields. “Civic engagement is an important part of the redevelopment process. We look forward to receiving the public’s feedback as we work together to create the best possible future for Caneel Bay.”
The re-development at Caneel Bay will, unfortunately, not begin for some time. But, onward and upward towards more progress for our little rock!
“While the Caneel Bay retained use estate (RUE) will remain in place until its expiration on September 30, 2023, the NPS began planning for the Caneel Bay redevelopment last fall. The goals of the redevelopment plan are to ensure the preservation and protection of natural, cultural and marine resources, provide for economic development opportunities through commercial services, maximize operational efficiencies, and ensure compliance with law, regulation and policy.” – NPS Press Release (1/18/2022)
BEFORE you jump to speak up, which I hope many of you do, please read the entire Redevelopment of Caneel Bay Civic Engagement Newsletter from NPS and prepare your comments with the community’s best interest at heart using the following guidelines.
As you prepare your comments, the NPS is interested in hearing from you on topics such as:
•The clarity of our purpose, need, and objectives;
•What types of experiences, activities, and services should be available at the Caneel Bay area that are not already captured in our conceptual range of preliminary alternatives;
•Feedback on the list of significant issues that the NPS should analyze in the planning process and whether additional issues should be considered in detail and why.
The public comment period is open until February 17, 2022 and comments may be submitted via the Redevelopment of Caneel Bay page on the NPS site. On February 8, 2022, NPS will hold a virtual public meeting on the topic, so you may want to hold off on those comments until after listening in on that. The description of the meeting is as follows:
“During this 30-day civic engagement comment period, the NPS invites you to join this virtual public meeting as we share information about the planning process, the preliminary purpose and need, the conceptual range of alternatives, and environmental issues in the planning area. You are encouraged to share your observations, comments, and ideas about the information presented in the newsletter and at this virtual public meetings. The NPS will use the information obtained during this civic engagement outreach to refine the conceptual range of alternatives, refine issues, and ensure that we have the necessary information to move forward in the planning process.”
If you are interested in attending, you can go to the webinar link to register now.
Thank you to all of you for following along on this complex and lengthy topic. It is always a lot of information to process and differing opinions when it comes to Caneel Bay and I appreciate your civility when addressing sensitive subjects such as this.