Jan. 15, 2006 – Yacht Haven Grande is coming into its own. The derelict hotel property, which was for years an embarrassment to the community, is no more.
The temporary fence with its colorful murals has been replaced by a fence stretching down Long Bay Road, now advertising retail and office space in a "Playground by the Sea."
Standing on the top floor of the three-story structure, which will eventually house 12 luxury condominiums, Elie Finegold, vice president of Yacht Haven USVI, looks down at the industry going on below: trucks, bulldozers, cranes, and seemingly endless herds of men busily at work in hard hats.
"We are looking at the raw materials of elegance," he says.
"You know," he continues, "standing up here makes me feel like a kid again, it's so exciting."
Finegold has shepherded the project since its inception more than three years ago. Everywhere you look, there is activity. He says about 200 workmen are now employed by Manhattan Construction Co., which subcontracts the work. According to Finegold, about 90 percent of the workforce is local.
Looking out past the two cruise ships at the West Indian Co. dock, with the harbor glistening in the late afternoon sunlight, Finegold says, "These condos will have an unsurpassed view." The view, however, comes with a healthy price tag. "They will go for about $2 million," he says.
Finegold says the project is "on track with the $150 million Phase I to open before season, probably in November." That phase includes 80,000 square feet of retail space, 30,000 square feet of office space, three waterfront restaurants, 12 condominium units, and a yacht club.
Finegold then points to a cinder block building at the northern end of the property, going toward town. "That's a cistern," he says, "which will hold 315,000 gallons of water."
The property also has two generators, one megawatt each. Finegold says, "That's more than enough to keep everything going, if WAPA goes out." To say the least. A kilowatt hour is the typical way that electricity is measured. A megawatt is 1 million watt hours.
After moving downstairs, Finegold says, "This looks like a pile of dirt with a couple sticks. What we are standing on is the underground utility and water lines, internet connections, all the things that go in first." He adds, "The groundwork, pardon the pun."
What we are actually standing on, Finegold points out, is one of three restaurants. "You see it's not against the dock. We left several feet of water between the dock and the restaurant so it will be true waterfront dining."
Aesthetics is a huge factor in the development, and that concern is represented by a concrete building, about 20 feet square. It is an odd structure, stone sides here, various colors of paint there. "This is our mock-up," Finegold says. "This is where we try things out."
It's painted with various shades of beige, yellows and grays, inside and out. About 20 samples of various stucco washes grace one inner wall. Finegold points to what appears to be a rock wall. "This stonework, the seashells, everything here is cement," he says. "They look just like the real thing, like native stonework. People can't believe it because it looks so natural."
Under foot are several different kinds of pavings: red brick, stone, all different patterns. "We will have 20 different paving areas," Finegold says. "We are leaving these sections out in the weather to see how they will hold up."
We then head to the 12,000-square-foot retail outlet, located approximately where the old Yacht Haven courtyard once stood. The handsome building is painted in traditional Caribbean colors – a warm yellow topped by a red roof. The front of the building is accented with archways adorned by a row of white pillars.
Going inside the cavernous structure, with utility fixtures dangling from the ceiling, Finegold sees only finished shops. "I'm excited about the mix of upscale retailers we will have here," he says. "Louis Vuitton is coming back. They haven't been here for 10 years. We want to provide world-class quality."
Finegold says tenants will be able to move in and begin structuring their outlets in the next few months. Lease agreements have also been signed with Tommy Bahama, Little Switzerland, Body Deli, International Sunglass Hut, Diamonds International, Max Azria designer clothing, and Roberto Coin jewelers.
FirstBank and UBS have also entered into lease agreements with Yacht Haven Grande, Finegold says.
Many more retailers will be represented in the retail complex at the north end of the property in Phase II of the construction slated to open by the end of 2007.
Walking toward the water we come to the marina building, located at the entrance to the main dock, which will house a laundry for boat crews, marine-related shops, and a computer center. "See the outlets here," Finegold points to a wall, barren except for the electric outlets. "We will have a computer room here just for the boat captains and crews to do their paperwork in." Reflecting he says, "There's just an enormous amount of planning and detail in this project."
Moving outside, Finegold looks down the 720-foot pier, which is being built with massive amounts of steel and cement. "It is unparalleled," he says. "There is no boat it cannot accommodate, including the 'Rising Sun,' the world's largest yacht." No mean feat: When the 452-foot, 8-inch megayacht visited St. Thomas a year ago, it had to dock at the southern pier in Crown Bay Marina.
He says the dock's marine pedestals are "as good as any in the world. The dock will withstand any wind. You can imagine the planks might blow, but the structure will stand."
Another dock, at the northern end of the property, extending about 200 feet into the bay, will house a gourmet restaurant and a premier yacht club.
St. Thomas was once the heart of the Caribbean boating industry, bringing in an estimated $100 million of economic activity a year. That was until Hurricane Hugo destroyed Yacht Haven, the industry's hub, in 1989. The new owners estimate the new marina will bring in about $300 million annually.
The old Yacht Haven never regained prominence in the water or on the land after Hugo. In 1995 Hurricane Marilyn hit and soundly finished the job. The property steadily continued to deteriorate, bringing in rats and squatters in place of the former boat and hotel crowd. The blighted structure became a community embarrassment, the first thing cruise ship passengers would see on a walk to town.
Yacht Haven has undergone a series of ownership changes, legal battles, Senate hearings and community concerns in the past six years. In March 2004 the new owners broke ground with a festive ceremony attended by a cross-section of the community. (See "Many Celebrate Yacht Haven Groundbreaking".)
For a complete history of the project, enter Yacht Haven in the search engine. The Source has reported extensively on the project since its inception.
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