As representatives of Caneel Bay Resort’s current and former employees, we feel compelled to write a response to the negative and erroneous information being circulated, regarding the plan to re-open the resort. We are saddened and dismayed that a small minority of people who live, but do not work, on St. John see no need to quickly rebuild the heart of the community and the major employer, Caneel Bay Resort.
This letter gives voice to all those who do support Caneel Bay Resort being rebuilt as quickly as possible, both native Virgin Islanders and others who make a living in this beautiful place we call home. We need both the direct employment Caneel Bay Resort offers and the other business opportunities created by the resort. Caneel Bay Resort is a multi-generational employer and without the resort, many Virgin Islanders who must work for a living have left the islands to seek employment elsewhere. Without employment, they can’t come home. For those who’ve stayed, they too need better employment options. Without employment, they can’t stay forever.
We ask you to consider some basic facts:
– The bill, H.R. 4731, introduced to Congress only provides for an extension of the current arrangement, which is a Retained Use Estate (RUE.) The changes to the terms and conditions of the RUE provide specifically for a fair market value payment to the Federal Government; no payment is currently required under the RUE. Any suggestion that the extension gives unrestricted rights to the owners of Caneel Bay Resort is untrue and unfounded.
– For over 60 years, Caneel Bay Resort has maintained the integrity of its natural setting and those buildings which have historical significance. The rumor that Caneel Bay Resort will commence a building plan of unsuitable structures, or damage its beautiful natural setting, is untrue and unfounded. The RUE currently provides restrictions on building height, total guest rooms and guest rooms per beach. In addition, there are regulations that protect historic buildings, which are not impacted by the RUE extension.
– The owners of Caneel Bay Resort support the Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission and comply with all its obligations. In return the resort guarantees employment to Virgin Islanders and provides significant other benefits. Any suggestion that Caneel Bay Resort is not currently in compliance with its responsibilities is untrue and unfounded.
– Environmental visionary and Caneel Bay Resort founder Mr. Laurance S. Rockefeller initially built the resort demonstrating how parks and economies could co-exist and thrive for the benefit of residents and visitors. Indeed, each year Caneel Bay welcomes back members of the Rockefeller Family to enjoy the untouched beauty of the resort. A keystone of Caneel Bay Resort management is a respect and commitment to this beneficial harmony and any suggestion that this coexistence is unimportant, is untrue and unfounded.
– The current owners of Caneel Bay Resort retain all rights to operate the resort until Sept. 30 2023; a commitment which the National Park Service (NPS) must honor. Thus, even without H.R. 4731 the owners retain all RUE rights for the next five years. After September 2023, if the NPS issues a request for proposals to re-build Caneel Bay Resort, it is reasonable to assume the evaluation, award and contract negotiation will take two years. Following an award and contract, the new operator will begin a new resort design and seek all necessary approvals while it obtains financing. Once this process is complete, construction can start. It is fair to say that a new operator at Caneel Bay would not open the Resort until 2028.
Allowing untrue and unfounded information to impact the livelihoods of Virgin Islanders is unfair and unnecessary. H.R. 4731 will provide the strongest and quickest economic stimulus to the USVI and specifically to St. John, one desperately needed and needed now.
We are deeply grateful to Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett for all her efforts to bring employment back to the U.S. Virgin Islands and we ask you to join her, and all Virgin Islanders, to do the right thing for our families and for our local economy. The St. Thomas/ St. John Chamber of Commerce and the U.S.V.I. Hotel & Tourism Association recognize the importance of a thriving tourism industry to the financial well-being of our islands, and we ask you to do the same by actively supporting H.R. 4731.
Brad Dow, executive director
Chad Prentice, director of operations
Capt. Calvin Thomas, director of marine operations