What’s Happening at Caneel Bay…

The main lawn at Caneel Bay - January 2019
The main lawn at Caneel Bay – January 2019

It’s been awhile since we updated you on what’s happening over at Caneel Bay, so we figured we would share the latest with you today. For those of you short on time today, the quick answer is that nothing is happening. For those of you who have a few more minutes to spare today, here is the nitty gritty.

Ok, so as you know, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett introduced a Bill in late 2016 which asked Congress to give the operators of Caneel Bay – CBI Acquisitions, a private equity firm out of Connecticut – a 60-year retained use estate agreement. That Bill passed the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands in early 2017. It was introduced to the full House on December 21st, but it was never acted on. When the 115th Congressional Session ended, the Bill was officially dead.

So what’s that mean? Well it means we are back to square one.

As of this morning, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett has not reintroduced the Bill to the new Congress and it is unclear whether she plans to. I reached out to Plaskett via her website over the weekend asking that very question, but have yet to hear back. Another person inquired via her Facebook page on January 5, but that question has been left unanswered as well.

So does this mean that CBI’s hands are tied? Absolutely not. They still have three years remaining on their current agreement. And when that expires, a 40-year lease kicks in. So essentially, they have at least 43 more years where they can successfully operate Caneel Bay. They are just choosing not to.

I was able to see the property up close recently, and it is truly a sad sight. Absolutely nothing has been touched. There is still furniture in the destroyed beachfront rooms, and nearly the entire property is overgrown. I understand that it is a large property and there were very few staff on site before Irma hit, but it appears that very little was done to prevent damage. For example, a very expensive Micros system – the system servers use at restaurants – was left sitting out and remains there today. Only one window that I saw had blue tape criss-crossed on it; none were boarded up.

For those of you as interested in this as I am, you can routinely check to see if a new Bill is introduced by visiting www.congress.gov. Once you are there, click on the “Introduced” button on the right. There you can see every Bill that has been introduced in Congress. You can also search by topic or the sponsor.

When you type “Caneel” into the search box, you can see Plaskett’s failed Bill, plus former Congresswoman Donna Christensen’s passed Bill which became Law, giving CBI the additional 40-year lease. You can also see a failed Bill by Christensen which sought to give the the 40-year lease during the prior session. Check out a screenshot:

Image taken from Congress.gov
Image taken from Congress.gov

So we’re curious, now that we’re back to square one, what would you like to see happen at Caneel? Please answer by taking this poll.

39 thoughts on “What’s Happening at Caneel Bay…”

  1. I’d like to understand who is responsible for maintaining the buildings and Facilities on the property. Who owns them? Who carried the insurance? If it’s cbi’s responsibility then I think they need to put it back to its former State whether they’re going to continue to run it or not. Somebody had to have insurance. Do they get to keep the insurance money and just walk away?

    • You are spot on Katie. CBI was required to carry insurance they are also required, when the lease is up, to return the property in good condition. It’s hogwash that they need to recoup rebuild money.

    • I absolutely agree! There most certainly was insurance money! Why has nothing been done. The owner is absolutely irresponsible and doesn’t deserve to own such a wonderful place!

  2. CBI needs to start rebuilding or walk away now, and let someone take over with the 40 year existing lease as stated by law and the intent of the Rockefellers.
    Caneel Bay is a large employer [was] on the island and is important in maintaining jobs on St John, boosting the tourist based economy of St John .
    As a luxury resort Caneel Bay helps maintain the St John appearance of the upscale destination that it has become, drawing the upscale tourist from around the world for generations. These upscale tourists spend the needed money to allow the local economy to have a much better standard of living than most other Caribbean tourist destinations .
    Build it or lose it now CBI.

  3. Good Morning,
    Thank you for the update.
    I am also curious regarding the absolutely fabulous Restaurant ZoZo’s, is the Restaurant relocating?
    I have been a patron of ZoZo’s since Gallow Point and just would live an uodate on Restaurants progress.
    Thank you so much.

  4. For what it’s worth, my wife and I were there in November – we landed on Caneel beach via boat and explored a tiny bit. Everything is in shambles, like you reported, but we found it curious that some rooms seemed to have had some work done, and had furniture arrayed in ways that couldn’t have been random (i.e., from the storm winds). We were left wondering who had been there and why some things had been manipulated/rehabilitated.

      • Terry — I heard the same thing via scuttlebutt, and that would track with what I saw there. If that’s the case, good on Caneel for providing lodging for the cleanup crews.

  5. CBI should get to work with their 43 yr lease and get Caneel back in business. Particularly for the 400 plus jobs that locals had there. Sadly greed is running CBI’s decision and worse it is impacting those former workers and STJ in a significant manner.

  6. I think the people of St. John should make their frustration known to CBI in a more direct and clear way. They can’t and won’t do anything unless they are pressured and publicly embarrassed for the lack of progress, communication and intention to help St. John rebuild and the USVI recover. It’s reprehensible that they have left it in the state it’s in. Caneel had a very special place in many hearts, and the owners have a responsibility to help move it forward. So let’s call them out more directly on it. Posts on here won’t have an impact, other than venting our collective frustration. Somebody call 60 Minutes and have them come down and cover the intentional travesty that CBI is perpetrating. Have them send a camera and reporter into Rep. Plaskett’s office. That will get them all to respond.

      • I just reached out to 60 minutes. Here is the piece that I e-mailed
        to them.

        PLEASE, PLEASE do a segment on the devastation of Caneel Bay resort on the island of St. John….. how hurricane Irma destroyed the property, put 400 employees out of work, and how the owners are doing NOTHING to rebuild the property.!!!! The once pristine property that attracted international tourism, catered to loyal repeat customers, and heavily contributed to the economy of the island, is now…..acres and acres of overgrown weeds, devastated buildings and a carribean vacationers dream spot…..blown in the wind. SHAME ON CBI, the owners of this once sought after piece of paradise….for allowing this property to rot!!!
        Thank you for listening.
        Anne Robertson. St. John resident and former Caneel Bay patron.

        Sent from Anne’s Pad 🙂

        • Thank you for doing this! I have been utterly heartbroken over what has happened with Caneel Bay. My first visit there was for my Honeymoon in 1989, and we have returned at least 20 times since then. It obviously hold a very special place in my heart. The last couple of trips, dear friends joined us. It was going to be a new annual tradition. We love Caneel Bay, and we want it back! We love and care for the wonderful staff, and are worried about what has become of them.

  7. As I recall, CBI had some sort of a “sweetheart” deal where they paid ZERO taxes and ZERO percent of income. If that is correct, then the only sensible vote is to start fresh with a NEW COMPANY and a NEW LEASE AGREEMENT. In the meantime there must be a way to at least CLEANUP/DEMOLISH all the debree and ruined structures. The people of St. John are a very innovative and determined group—–think positive, get it done, think outside the box: raffles, volunteers, go fund me, etc., etc.

    • That deal was left to them by the Rockefellers. The bill, as it was ultimately amended, would have called for CBI to pay rent determined by an independent consultant, but allowed them to deduct certain upkeep costs from rent. There is no telling whether they would actually have paid anything. Also, they didn’t pay ZERO taxes. They collected sales and occupancy taxes to the VI govt.

      • I believe when people refer to them paying “zero taxes” they mean that CBI personally did not pay any out of pocket. You are correct when you say they collected sales and occupancy taxes from their guests and then passed that money on to the VI government.

  8. I sincerely hope that Rep Plaskett does not reintroduce the same bill (HR4731) to the new 2019 Congress. According to published reports, it was written by Gary Engle of CBI Acquisitons, owner of Caneel Bay Resort. That bill lacked protection for the “people’s park” – our national park. There was no protection for the architectural, natural, biological, and historical assets of the 170 acre parcel. In addition, CBI could have continued not paying even minimal rent to the National Park Service(NPS) let alone the Virgin Island National Park of which it is a part. I hope that the NPS continues to act best interest of the American People.

  9. Anything new happening at Gary’s Bay. I used to stay at Dolphin Run..i loved it. I heard then place was for sale, as the owner has passed away.

  10. Here are the “Other” answers that have been left so far… I am not sure why they don’t show up with the rest of the results. I will look into that for you all.

    I think another group should come in an rebuild it. It truly was a stunning resort. Such a shame to not have that re-built. 1

    some body do something i miss my happy place 1

    I would like to see moderately priced lodging to make St. Johm more affordable for the middle class. 1

    CBI has the resources and insurance money. CBI is financially and morally responsible for cleaning up Caneel. After that let a responsible company build a resort for the 40 year lease. It will replace so many jobs lost. If that can not happen give it back to the park! 1

    So fearful of larger less eco friendly resort coming in but the Island needs to get more from this deal 1

    Or let some other group take over the operations. 1

    Put a section aside for a school 2 get the kids out of town 1

    I think CBI should stick with the current 40-year lease, which is Law, and start rebuilding -OR- CBI should walk away or sell to another group so they can rebuild and operate Caneel Bay. 1

    I think Caneel should revert to the National Park in now, and CBI should walk away. Obviously they have no interest in honoring current agreements and has created a very bad situation. 1

    Whatever way they can put the process up for bid or whatever the process would be to have another resort company come in and rebuild, I’M FOR THAT! I think it would not hurt to have a large resort on STJ as long as they respect the island’s beauty, uniqueness and privacy and copy something along the lines of the old Caneel resort. 1
    people St. John employemt. 1

    I think Michael Blom berg should be asked if he would be interested in working with the National Park to develop the property to best help the island of St. John. 1

    What ever is best for St. John !!! 1

    If cbi does not do the 40 they should walk away 1

    Donkey sanctuary 1

    CBI should continue with the 40 year lease that has already been granted and clean up the mess. If not then let someone else take over and rebuild They can’t continue to leave it in shambles 1

    clean slate, give to NP, with 170 acres…….exclusive golf course 1

    First thought is revert but realize it’s important for jobs,etc for the local economy so CBI walking so another group could make a new resort 1

    I would like to see the beaches reopened to the public forthwith and I would like to see the debris removed. 1

    Since Wesin/Vistana has already shown commitment to St. John and hire employees year round, support should be directed for this organization 1

    Recommend Westin take over management 1

    • I think a new bill should be introduced to require rebuilding in a culturally- and environmentally-sensitive manner and provide sanctions for failure to meet certain milestones. CBI will then have a means of valuing that and either hanging on and getting the work done, or selling to someone who will.

  11. As of the last I heard Zozo’s was wrecked, the roof had collapsed and all of the kitchen appliances etc, could be sold had been sold, and the chef / owner ? ,was working somewhere’s in Danvers MA.
    It also appears that Cinnamon Bay took a much harder hit from Irma than Caneel Bay did, and should be rebuilt by the lessee maybe ? [ We saw it first hand] It should be rebuilt as it’ s the only remaining campground [ Concordia is also gone along with privately held Maho] and the people who can not afford to stay elsewhere should have this option to to camp on St John. This was also the intent of the Rockefellers, in the development of the Virgin Islands National Park.

  12. I don’t think the bit about the 40-year lease kicking in is accurate. The law that was passed gave the DOI the authority to negotiate a lease within the parameters of the law, but was an actual lease signed? If there is a lease, they should rebuild immediately.

  13. “The bill was introduced December21, 2018 but was never acted on” ( the bill is dead).
    Can some one who knows what this truly means, please save the snide comments, and tell me what does that mean? Why wasn’t it acted on? They just tossed it out – no future discussion on a bill that was sitting there since 2016? Is that how things work??

    • Sure thing Janet…

      Plaskett introduced this Bill. It passed one committee in Congress and then went to the House. In order to become law, it needs to pass the House, the Senate and then get the President’s signature. This Bill was never voted on in the House. That means that it did not pass the House and therefore could not pass the State, nor could it get the President’s signature.

      Because last year was an election year, a new Congress was sworn in earlier this week. Because Plaskett’s Bill was not discussed prior to the new Congress being sworn it, it’s dead meaning it cannot be acted on. All Bills introduced prior to the new Congress that were not voted into Law are basically thrown away.

      Now that we have a new Congress, Plaskett would have to reintroduce this Bill in order for it to be acted on. Essentially, they need to start at the beginning again.

  14. I think Caneel Bay property should be handed over to the animal rescue lady Dana from Carolina Corral. It would make a terrific property to turn into a donkey reserve and rescue.

  15. I believe CBI should relinquish Caneel back to the National Park, which technically they already have via abandonment and violation of the lease, and the park service should restore/rebuild Caneel and manage the property. Our NPS has beautiful resorts all over the US that are beatifully maintained and successful operations. This brings those jobs back to the Island, and also brings some affordable lodging for visitors. I’m sure there would be a dozen restaurantuers that would line up for the on-site restaurant lease. I think the most expedient way to see something happen would be for the abandonment issue be pursued. CBI will either jump into action to start the cleanup process rather than lose the property due to a failure to perform, or the government gets it back.

    • That’s literally the last thing I’d like to see happen. They need a competent and experienced hotel operator in there. The government doesn’t run the national park hotels directly. Totally separately, and not that facts should get in the way of a good rant, but they are not in violation of anything. What they have is a RUE, not a lease, and it has barely any actual terms. The RUE does not require insurance coverage and at the end of the term, they are required to give back what’s there, but not in any particular condition. You have to keep in mind that the Rockefeller family negotiated this initial deal in connection with donating the property, so they were not about to hem themselves into anything, including paying rent on the property. Why would they? CBI is now the beneficiary of those terms until 2023. I do agree, though, that if they aren’t going to develop it, they should voluntarily give it up. They are holding the property hostage to get a deal done and this is to the determent of the VI community. One last thing, you seem to equate government operation and affordable room rates. I don’t know why you would do that. Sure, some of the national park hotels are relatively inexpensive, but others, like Jenny Lake Lodge, which is the property I’d equate Caneel to, are not. This is a premium property that can bring premium rates. It is incredibly unlikely that they would sell those rooms at a significant discount to what they can bring. Whomever operates it is running a business.

  16. To clarify one recurrent theme of the above posts, there is no 40-year lease in place at this time. The current law (PL 111-261) authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to negotiate and enter into a 40-year lease with the current RUE holder (CBI Acquisitions). NPS and CBI had been in negotiations but CBI walked away from discussions and there is nothing in place.

    PL 111-261 is already a very sweet deal for CBI – a non-competitive 40-year lease on an iconic property, almost unheard of in other national parks.

    Joe Kessler
    (outgoing) President
    Friends of VI National Park

  17. The time for woulda, coulda, shoulda is over. Regardless of their reasons, CBI acquisitions is not interested in rebuilding Caneel any time soon. Money talks and other things walk. To me, it seems, actions such as: 1) a website / Facebook page designed to collect up all those folks committed to rebuilding Caneel and / or punishing CBIA, 2) a class – action lawsuit designed to compel CBIA to walk away – citing things such as abandonment; failure to perform; negligence in caring for park service land; unlawfully restricting access, now, to public, park service land; and possibly even pain and suffering (do you realize how many people’s ashes are in and around that land?) and a 3) a boycott of all of CBIA’s other properties / products, etc.. I’d hate to say it, people, but the people who love Caneel and want it rebuilt are the much higher wage earners of this world and are the ones who should be able to get things done. Clearly, we are wanting to help ourselves by having Caneel back, but we would also be helping the VI people (whom I love) in the best way possible (give a fish / teach to fish, etc.). Folks, we, and that includes me, have been doing a poor job of forcing CBIA into action or out of the picture. Some of that was likely in hopes that they would just “do the right thing”. They have not, they will not, and they have no heart for the matter. We do have that heart, so much so that we need to be careful not to let it obscure practicality, even. We also have the intellectual, financial, networking, and durability powers, which the general population of the VI does not, to force CBIA out as well as to leave their insurance money on the table. Caneel can easily be rebuilt in stages, and in a more economical, modern, and eco – friendly way. Also in a way where more middle class families can enjoy (our parkland), which is only right. CBIA only cares about the money, so they need to be hit where it hurts, now. By the way, does anyone have a list of CBIA’s other “acquisitions”? If the above is a “call to arms” then so be it and count me in. I would even be willing to set up a central “nerve center” / database for the cause (e-mails / phone #’s / occupations / etc.). We can do more as a group (of presumably more influential than average citizens) than as individuals. And yes to you Wilkerson’s – I have already added you to the database (jk), because I am sure you are as pi—- off as me, by now. So, are we gonna do it …….. or not? I say, “Let’s Roll”.

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