Business is great at resorts

Both Caneel Bay Resort and Westin Resort and Villas are reporting record occupancy rates during the first quarter of the year.  Matt Balcik, at the Westin, said "we’re running at 92% occupancy," while Caneel’s chief, Rik Blyth said the resort has had occupancy in the high 80s to low 90s during the first three months of the year.  Favorable publicity in mainland media, including Conde Nast’s Travelers Magazine and The New York Times is credited for some of the strength in business.

The third quarter looks iffy, however. Caneel’s Blyth said last year’s September and October were much worse than in 2004, according to the St. John Trade winds.  "My gut feeling  is that it has to do with all the hurricanes. and the threat of them this year," he said.

St. Johnians ask cruise lines for help

Members of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association should help underwrite some of the island’s expenses, such as paying for more public restrooms, according to people speaking at a recent island meeting of the V.I. Cruise Ship Task Force.  Comments were heard at the public hearing which is part of the Task Force’s preparation for a new 5-year operating agreement between the government and the cruise lines, according to the Virgin islands Daily News.

Lorelei Monsanto,  owner of Banana Jack, said there should a canopy for cruise ship visitors who arrive via the Creek’s barge dock, where it can be quite hot.  She also said that many of the visitors to her shop on Bordeaux Mountain would like restroom facilities.  The cruise lines should help pay for more comfort stations, she added.

Wi-Fi comes to Red Hook

Choice Communications on St. Thomas says it is offering wireless Internet access from downtown to red Hook.  The Wi-Fi network has been developed by BelAir Networks

"We have HotSpots in the Havensight Dock and the shopping area, at Coral World, Coki Beach and some of the surrounding hotels, and well as Vessup Marina, American Yacht Harbor and the St. John Ferry Dock, the telecommunications company said. "It’s great for the boating community as well!" More information here.

Church mahogany tree to live on

Maurice Smith, a wood craftsmen and member of the Cruz Bay Baptist Church, has his work cut out for him.   An old mahogany tree in the church’s yard was slowly dying and losing branches, becoming as safety hazard.  Smith offered to remove the tree if he could work with its wood.  Pastor Emmanuel Jaggernauth agreed, telling the Virgin islands Daily News, "It has been given to him to use in constructive ways."

Smith said he will be able to use the 12-foot long trunk, 30 inches in diameter, "for dining table tops, mainly, and other small furniture."  The 65-year-old Smith is one of a few wood workers on St. John.  "This is a gift I’m born with," he told the newspaper. "Somebody just tells me to make something, and I do it."  Smith said he also plans to build  chairs to be used in the church."

Tage open

It appears that Tage has reopened in the wake of the departure of its award winning chef, Ted Robinson. (So, you can disregard all the nice words on the Web site about Ted”s skill.)

"They have a new chef from St. Thomas (transplant from Pittsburgh)," said a message at  Virgin-Islands-On-Line.com. "Rumor has it they have all new staff except for Will at the bar and they are bringing back Thomas as the manager (thank goodness)."

Ronnie’s Pizza serves artists’ offerings

St. John has another place to see art.  This one is at Boulon Center, inside Ronnie Klingsberg’s pizza restaurant.  The initial exhibition included photographs by Bob Lefferts and watercolors from Jennifer Robinson, according to the St. John Sun-Times

Lefferts said "two perfect white walls" will highlight his work.  "I know some artists may wonder if this is an appropriate venture top show their work," he said, "but I loved the idea of breaking out of the traditional approaches to presenting art."

Red Hook terminal moving along

The huge new ferry dock at Red Hook is more than half complete, according to the V.I. Port Authority.  The facility’s proper name is "Red Hook Intermodal Transit Facility."

Officials said the $9.3 million project is 65% complete  Plans call for an 8,000 square foot building which includes a bar, a newsstand, six ticket counters, restrooms, outdoor seating and a  parking lot. "I did not envision it being so big," Darlan Brin, executive director of VIPA told the Virgin Islands Daily News. "But we might as well have room to grow.  We need elbow room."

Most of the facility is above water, but more than 100 steel pilings filled with concrete were driven as deep as 68 feet into the water to support the structure.  A spokesman for the contractor said work should be complete by Thanksgiving.

How dry is it?

There has been virtually no rain for nearly seven weeks, according to island sources.  Water trucks making deliveries to island homes are a common site on the roads.  prices for a truckload reportedly have topped $350.  We paid $300 last year.  The District fire chief has also suspended all burning permits until further notice.

The reassessors have landed

Agents of the V.I. Tax Assessor’s Office are on island, making visits to residential properties to measure their size, assess their views, and calculate their value in preparation of the next round of property taxes.  It’s part of a territory-wide reconfiguration of the tax rolls.

It is possible home owners could see tax bills double, triple, or worse, when the new valuations are issued.  That’s because a 1936 federal law requires the VI’s to adhere to this formula: 1.25% of 60% of the value of a property. 

For instance, a house with a market value of $1.2 million, under this formula, could have its property tax rise from $1,800 to $9,000.

The VI government and Del. Donna Christensen are now urging Congress to repeal the law and allow the VI government to create its own system for calculating taxes. A committee of the U.S. Senate has voted to approve repeal of the federal tax law. 

"The law has become a burden on our people, especially property owners on St. John, where property taxes have been skyrocketing," said At Large Sen. Craig Barshinger.  He said the territory should be allowed to develop its own tax code.