NPS Requests Public Comment on Future Redevelopment of Caneel Bay

NPS Requests Public Comment on Future Redevelopment of Caneel Bay

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….

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Caneel Bay – 1958

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.

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A brilliant Flamboyant Tree amidst the historic sugar mill ruins at Caneel Bay. – 2019

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?  🙂

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Caneel Bay Entrance – July 2018

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….

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Photo – Anne Bequette for the New York Times

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.

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Caneel Bay Overlook- Summer 2020

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.”

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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.

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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.


39 thoughts on “NPS Requests Public Comment on Future Redevelopment of Caneel Bay”

  1. I don’t think there’s a resort in the world that is open to the public unless they’re coming in for lunch, visiting a guest or paying to use the facilities for the day. If Caneel is going to be a hotel then it should be run as a hotel and all that that means . Paying overnight guests have the right to privacy. With Honeymoon remaining as a public beach, as it’s been quite successful.
    Otherwise, maybe it should be a totally public park , with safaris taking you to the different beaches that are set up similar to Honeymoon with some concessions and water sports, and Zsozso’s being the prominent restaurant. No overnight accommodations. Charging a day fee with different options much like trunk does. It can’t be both!

    • Actually the beach resorts on St Croix are open to the public and you don’t have to buy lunch, a beverage, or even visit someone who is staying on site. We spent time at some beautiful resorts for beach access and didn’t spend a dollar, not even for parking.

  2. I would like to see a small boutique hotel in one area and a less expensive version in another area but also allow residents and visitors access to a few of the beaches. We can already walk through the property to Honeymoon. Why not at least one other beach? I was a huge fan of Zo’Zo’s when it was on property. Ridiculously expensive but some of the best meals ever.

    on the other hand, they should just clear the property, charge a fee to get in and leave it as is. minimalist! Love the idea of a museum though.

  3. No action required is the best, lets keep our national park as it was intended
    Clean up Polluted area and clean up area, make beaches available to residents and visitors alike, easier Access, and some type of food or drink but not like Maho
    No hotels etc, please

  4. My husband and I went to Cannel once for lunch. After lunch we decided to stroll over to the beach, we were stopped and asked to leave the property. We we where aghast, we were under the impression all beaches in St. John were public. We never went back. It should be a property open to everyone.

    • The beaches are public – but that has never meant people are allowed through private property (which under the RUE that is what Caneel effectively was) to access said beach. You can always access via boat/kayak/etc.

  5. We visit twice a year. But never once visited Honeymoon Beach because of the “parking fee”. I don’t live on St John, so my opinion has limited value – we don’t need any more exclusive places! That is what makes St John wonderful already – the park, the beautiful beaches that everyone has access to . . . why try to fix what is not broken? Create something for ALL to enjoy. Enjoy your newsletter.

  6. Is this proposed set of concepts that could guide the future redevelopment of Caneel Bay and open a competitive bid for concessions on the property the reason behind the Honeymoon Beach concession closing so abruptly?

  7. Thank you for your insights and for sharing this information. My wife and I are long time visitors and also support Option A or no action. That said, we will do more research and weigh in with our thoughts. Thanks again.

  8. Has it ever been considered to convert a portion of the property to a local affordable housing village? I love the A idea, but with the shrinking amount of long term rental options, this seems like a viable opportunity assuming there is enough land space. You could design a fairly green village to reduce impact on infrastructure. It could have a nicer upscale boutique type hotel, the common area for community, and a small village of affordable housing for those that can prove employment on the island and a minimum lease term. Shuttle service could run regularly for guests and residents alike as to not make an impact from added vehicles. An additional Hotel, Community use to enjoy the beauty of the property, and affordable housing, all seem like solutions to voiced issues on island.

  9. You know, that Beach was so beautiful. We never stayed there because #1 the price and #2 the rooms were ‘an emperor’ without the clothes BUT we always paid our $10 and visited, grabbing drinks & apps and not minding sitting on the sand. If its opened to the public, unfortunately, it could easily be abused….returning it to a resort and yes, updating those rooms with a mid-to high cost might be a good idea – to save an icon, allowed other people that might not be able to swing the price tag, come and if they keep the $10-20 admit fee, will allow visitors to pop in & enjoy.

  10. Is there more information about the development at Hawksnest? Is this the same space that is public picnic tables and free parking? It’d be a terrible loss to turn that beach into a resort?

    If Caneel must expand why not expand toward Honeymoon?

    The original intent be honored.

    Or at most a resort similar to the resorts of Yellowstone.

  11. Any redevelopment should have employee housing. At affordable rates for them either onsite or as part of the deal . This will incentivize people from the main land to transfer to canneel bay .

    This housing should be apartment style with 1,2 , and maybe a few theee bess for employee family . Building on site will also insure some income to the developers and make sure the workforce will ne available for the hotel . The staying at these units would be predicated on them working at the resort and would need to relocate should they no longer work there , making sure enough housing is always available for the resort and would be an incentive for workers to re locate to St. John’s .

  12. I like alternative A, except for the loss of Hawksnest as available for all guests. Actually, Caneel beach area might be a better alternative for mid- priced cabins. That would be closer to recreational and amphitheater areas and provide more privacy if guests wanted that. Whatever, any alternative is eagerly awaited!

  13. Thank you for this information & the link to the webinar. I will wait to hear what is said there, but can’t imagine it would be a good thing to include Hawksnest to be tied in with Caneel Bay activity. Look at how commercial Honeymoon has become. I would love to see this beautiful beach left alone & not added to abundant crowds & traffic that are now common on too many of St. John’s beaches. It is losing it’s island vibe and becoming like the beaches of Florida with a better view. At this point I would vote for the No-Action Alternative.

  14. For any of you who still read this blog, and all the newer island residents, and to this author who is expressing, correctly, just her opinion, please look for the 2016 hardback book “Caneel Bay & the Legacy of Laurance S. Rockefeller” by R. Barreneche. Not only is it a marvelous history, with pictures of the resort, but it also conveys the desire of Mr. Rockefeller to create and maintain a one-of-a-kind 170 acre property retaining the natural beauty and respecting the peace and tranquility that could be attained by its guests. It also employed many, many St. John residents who for their lifetime employment were treated like family. Until, that is, the present operator CBI came into the picture. I won’t go into what I witnessed as a 20 year guest AND then resident of St John who frequented the resort to play tennis with guests, but CBI had only their best interest and profit at heart. Caneel’s present rooms should be restored to their rather rugged but charming state, blending into the landscape. It does not have to be fancy, but targeted to a broader economic range of vacationer. The property will be nearly impossible to restore but we hope it can. The beaches should be cleared of the present leaseholder’s clutter and restored to their natural state. I remember when no one was on Honeymoon beach but a few who sought solitude. There should be privacy for paying guests, as before, but with public areas, like any hotel. The beaches as approached from the water are public, as was the area in front of Caneel Beach. I sincerely hope that the legacy and dreams of Laurance Rockefeller and his family might be kept alive.

    • Nancy – I would love to get a copy of the book you mentioned written in 2016. I have not been able to find one. Do you have any suggestions about where I might locate one? Thank you,

      My husband and I have been coming to Caneel Bay since 1985 and I truly hope the property can be reopened in some way for both overnight guests and the public – it was such a rare property of casual elegance and beauty.

  15. I am not an island resident but we are yearly visitors; I appreciate your article (and rant). Option A seems best for all involved.
    If option of “none” what could happen in 2023 when the lease runs out?
    We visit yearly because of the pristine environment and amazing locals – St John is truly a special place and our hope is that it continues to preserve that beauty while taking care of the islanders

  16. We have been coming to St John once or twice a year for a long time. I would prefer “No action” or “Option A” in order of preference. What makes me love St John is the slow-paced, peaceful serenity of pristine beaches, beautiful water and local bars and restaurants where you see the same folks working year after year. I can see by the masses of people, that many people are drawn to Maho with all the food trucks, drinks, etc. While I understand the appeal to a lot of people, I miss Maho before it became what it is today. Our last two “covid” trips to St John were met with crowds of people on the beaches and having to make dinner reservations days in advance. I witnessed so many people breaking all the rules…bringing live conch shells ashore, standing on coral, grabbing turtles, spraying non-reef-safe sunscreen, etc.

    I understand the desire for economic progress and opportunity, but in my humble opinion, St John doesn’t need addition lodging, that just adds the amount of tourists the island must carry. It also doesn’t need to block access to the beautiful beaches. We are just two people that visit your wonderful island a couple times a year, so the people that live on St John need to consider the situation and voice their opinions. I just hope that the St John doesn’t lose it’s character throughout this process.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my opinion!

    PS – To the people worried about Hawksnest being involved, if you look at the maps associated with each option, the beach in question is not the Hawksnest on North Shore, it is the small beach that was on the Hawksnest Bay side of Caneel.

  17. I vote for half of A, minus this:
    “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,”

    So, clean it up, add and improve the public facilities for all to enjoy.

  18. All in for Option C – with the addition of staff housing and a Museum can be reserved rights option for NPS if they get funding later. You cannot have free access and retain the quality of beach experience that will have guests pay the big bucks to keep the entire thing afloat. I grew up on St. John circa 1968-1987 and have been back most every year since. Caneel was a key differentiator for the island that attracted real tourist dollars.

  19. Have been coming to STJ since 1980 when we first visited Caneel (though I have not stayed at Caneel in many years—villas became a more economical option) . I would prefer a modified version of Option A. I say modified because I am not sure the new resort area needs to include all of Scott, Turtle Bay, Caneel and Caneel Hawksnest. I would think that Scott Beachand Turtle Bay would be enough of a prize for a luxury resort operator, and perhaps Caneel-Hawksnest. Caneel main beach (and maybe Caneel-Hawksnest), along with the sugar mill ruins adjacent to the Caneel main beach, could be dedicated as public beaches. Perhaps the income from the lease could be used to maintain the public areas. Not sure a mid-priced lodging on Caneel Hawksnest would ensure the high quality that location deserves, even though that is something I could more likely afford. I certainly have no objection to it all becoming public access, although the NPS has previously said it doesn’t have the money to maintain it. If someone would like to fund a trust to maintain Caneel as public land that seems a good option.

  20. Hope everyone takes the time to comment to the NPS.

    It was intended to revert back to the NPS – and the people. Preserve nature and no new ritzy resorts.

  21. Hey, I have an idea…..How about we actually honor the request..errr….requirement of Rockefeller by making it available to the public beginning September 30, 2023.

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