Less than a week after the National Park Service announced it would put the Caneel Bay Resort out for public bid, Caneel Purpose Group founder Matthew O’Hayer told an audience at a town hall Monday night that he is not a hotelier, but an opportunist who doesn’t see his business joining the competitive bidding process to redevelop the property.
“I never say never, but quite likely this is going to be years down the road. And I am not a full-time hotelier. I and the staff stand ready to bid on opportunities when they come up,” O’Hayer said. “I, quite frankly, don’t think we would win a competitive bidding process because we are not these big hotel chains with unlimited amounts of cash to play the game.”
The “fairly bureaucratic process” would take a considerable amount more time O’Hayer said.
“This has been a focus that has taken a lot of my time the last eight months, but if this goes into the competitive bidding process, which I’m guessing it probably will unless the community stands up and says they really want this, that process will probably not begin until after all the environmental work on the property is done, so we are talking years down the road,” he said.
Instead of a lengthy competitive bidding process, O’Hayer said the community has two other options, one of which he believes is best for St. John residents.
One alternate option would be to return the land back to its natural state and have no resort. O’Hayer said he has talked to 40 community members about it, and only one thought that was the way to go.
The second alternate option “would be to support the plan that you folks have given us. The Caneel Purpose Group plan is the community’s plan. It’s not my plan, it’s your plan,” O’Hayer said.
This plan would allow Caneel Purpose Group to evade the competitive bidding process, which O’Hayer said is entirely legal as a federal law passed in 2010 allows the National Park Service the ability to enter negotiations with the leaseholder.
“This process, with the agreement of the National Park Service and the leaseholder … could enable another organization to come in and basically cut this process by years and years, time-wise. So this is the path that I thought made the most sense to the community. You could actually get started right away … But none of that happens without the support of the community,” O’Hayer said.
Should the National Park Service stick with its decision, O’Hare said the benefits of having a world-class resort that produces employment opportunities will not be realized for half a decade.
“The National Park Service has outlined what they would like to do, which is to let the lease expire, and put out a bid process two and a half years from now where there would be a new leaseholder chosen. Enter with a new leaseholder, and begin construction, as they said sometime in 2024 and that would go until they could actually finish construction. So basically, five years from now under the continued existing statement that was made by the National Park Service last week, you would probably have the resort sometime in 2026,” O’Hayer said.
He also added that the latest environmental concerns could have been handled more quickly should the public change its mind, and in turn, reverse the National Park Service’s decision.
“The environmental concerns are being handled five months from now, why not this month? I would have started right away,” O’Hayer said.
He clarified that the National Park Service would have only an assessment of the area done first and wouldn’t begin clearing environmental hazards for another year.
Some of the hazards listed by O’Hayer included the landfill site that rests above and to the east of Honeymoon Beach, abandoned diesel tanks that have leaked, additional abandoned tanks that he did not know the contents of, and the insecticide DDT, which the United States outlawed in 1972, although some countries still permit its use.
Should the community “pull the trigger” on the option to go with Caneel Bay Purpose Group, O’Hayer said the hazards could be mitigated alongside the development of the resort.
“It’s way over on the edge of the property, there’s no reason that I can see why this resort can’t start being built alongside during these isolated locations of environmental mess that has been there for decades,” O’Hayer said.
Though O’Hayer believes he could accomplish the redevelopment of the resort more quickly, the decision ultimately rests with the National Park Service, which has been adamant about receiving public comment on the development. As it stands, in the aftermath of the Park Service announcement the public seemed happy to move forward with a competitive bidding process, which Caneel Bay Purpose Group could join but which O’Hayer said he is unlikely to take part in.
CPG is asking for community support letters from those in favor, and participation in a very short survey on its website so that everyone can voice their opinion on the matter, it said. The survey will close on Monday, Aug. 9.
Editor’s note: This story has been changed to correct the spelling of the name of Caneel Purpose Group founder Matthew O’Hayer, and to add the information about the group’s survey.