Senators showed strong support during Thursday’s Planning and Environmental Protection Committee meeting for a Coastal Zone Management permit that would allow Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Resort to kick off five months’ worth of renovations meant to help enhance the hotel’s brand and product.
What was approved during Thursday and sent on to the full Senate body for a final vote was actually a modification of the hotel’s existing permit, which would allow for the rebuilding of the dock already on the property, construction of a pump house and the installation of a 300-foot intake line into the bay — all components that Hotel General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa described as a necessary part of the infrastructure needed for the overall project.
Espinosa said the renovations, which will shut down a portion of the hotel from May 1 to the end of September, is necessary to transform Frenchman’s into a more attractive and competitive facility with unique and even eco-friendly features. He explained the existing dock is an "eyesore" and said he was "ecstatic" that it was being removed and rebuilt so more people can use it.
About 85 percent of the hotel’s guests currently frequent the dock in order to catch a ferry or take a tour, but making it more attractive could bump that number up to 90 percent, he said. The new 12-foot-wide dock will be somewhat smaller than the existing one, with concrete pilings and either wooden planks or a fiberglass grid on top, said the project’s architect Theresa Roberts.
Meanwhile, the hotel has gradually been going green and hopes to continue its efforts by installing central air, instead of having smaller air conditioning units in each of the guest rooms. As opposed to traditional electric systems, sea water will be used to cool down the air. Sea water will also be mixed with the hot water discharged from the system, which will lower the temperature before it’s released back into the ocean.
BioImpact environmentalist Amy Dempsey said there’s minimal impact to sea life with the dock, though the new intake pipe — which the sea water needed for the intake system will come through — will impact about 20 feet of sea grass beds. Dempsey explained the damage has been greater from the existing pipe, which has broken off by the shoreline and sucks in nearby plant or animal life.
Frenchman’s has received $48 million from its owners to do the repairs on the hotel, which range from refurbishing the balconies to expanding the spa and fitness area, Espinosa said.
During renovations, a total of 186 out of the hotel’s 478 rooms will remain open, along with Morning Star Beach Resort, he said.
Present during Thursday’s meeting were Sens. Craig W. Barshinger, Louis P. Hill, Neville James, Shawn-Michael Malone, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Alvin L. Williams.