The future of Caneel Bay Resort has been in flux since Hurricane Irma destroyed it in September 2017. There’s a lot going on regarding the property, so I will do my best to break it all down today. I’ll also let you know how you can potentially help shape its future.
(Click here to skip the backstory, and to go directly to the part about what’s currently happening today.)
The Resort’s History
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Caneel Bay Resort, it is located on St. John’s north shore. The resort was originally dubbed the Caneel Bay Plantation Resort when it opened back in 1935. At the time, there was only one cottage on each of the property’s seven beaches.
That seven-cottage “resort” was sold in 1946 for only $80,000, which was the book value at the time, according to the St. John Historical Society. Laurance Rockefeller subsequently bought the property in 1952 and opened up what came to be known at the Caneel Bay Resort. The resort officially opened, along with the Virgin Islands National Park, on Dec. 1, 1956. In 1960, Rockefeller donated the Caneel Bay Resort to the Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., a nonprofit conservation organization.
The RUE Agreement
In September 1983, Rockefeller decided that he wanted the property turned over to the National Park Service on September 30, 2023. It was then that he crafted the language for the Retained Use Estate agreement (RUE), which the property continues to operate under today. Under the RUE’s terms, the resort could be passed down to subsequent parties until it was handed over to the National Park Service in September 2023. However when one of the previous owners attempted to sell the resort in 1988, it prompted Rockefeller to write the then-NPS director and remind him of his intention for the property.
“I am concerned that the Park Service may be asked to extend the term of the Retained Use Estate, which would have the effect of enriching the seller and defeating the foundation’s intent to add the Caneel property to the park as scheduled,” Rockefeller wrote. “Caneel Bay is a very special site of outstanding scenic beauty which we believe should be protected and made available to the public as part of Virgin Islands National Park. We have been working together with the Park Service for over thirty years to achieve this end, but ultimately, your successors will determine whether and when the public will have the opportunity to enjoy the site as we intended.”
That last line is key. “…your successors will determine whether and when the public will have the opportunity to enjoy the site as we intended.”
This is actually happening at this very moment.
When Hurricane Irma hit St. John on Sept. 6, 2017, it devastated the island, Caneel Bay included. The once-posh resort was left in ruins. The resort’s operator, CBI Acquisition, opted not to rebuild without an extension of the RUE. They tried to get an extension through an Act of Congress, and it failed. CBI subsequently filed a quiet title action in June 2022. That case is pending. Click here to read the complaint.
NPS announced last week that it was down to two options with regard to the future of the Caneel Bay Resort, and it’s basically all or nothing.
Option A – No Redevelopment
Under this option, the property will be handed over to NPS on September 30, 2023. At that time, NPS “would assume management responsibility of the Caneel Bay area and would not issue any permit, lease, or concession contract to reestablish overnight use or provide resort-style services.”
Under this option, “the NPS would minimally restore the site to allow for safe access by visitors through existing roads and trails, including safe access to beaches. The NPS would not provide visitor services, including overnight lodging at the Caneel Bay area under the no-action alternative.”
Under this option, “the NPS would stabilize some historic buildings affected by the hurricane damage and subsequent deterioration to meet the NPS’s responsibilities for historic preservation and visitor safety. The historic structures would be left in place where possible, and their forms and outlines would be maintained. Existing trails and viewing area(s) may be rehabilitated, and information on site hazards would be provided for public safety, education, and protection of the site. Existing roadways would be minimally maintained and provide hiking access only to viewing areas and beaches. Administrative use of the roads by NPS vehicles would be allowed.”
Option B: Redevelop the Property
Under this option, NPS “aims to balance enhanced public access, recreational opportunities, resource protection, and park operational efficiency while reestablishing an overnight experience on a portion of the original RUE that is consistent with the landscape as envisioned by Laurance Rockefeller. Alternative B also identifies two potential locations for future community spaces where residents, overnight guests, and Park visitors could more directly experience the local culture of St. John and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”
Under this option, “future transportation system planning, such as the review of existing transportation infrastructure, site circulation including site drop-off and pick-up areas, and parking would be conducted when additional site access is obtained and in coordination with more detailed site planning. Future site-specific compliance and public involvement would be conducted if these actions are pursued. As part of Park- wide planning efforts, the NPS could elect to require an amenity fee for enhanced services or parking fees to help manage visitation at various sites within VINP that are not specific to the Caneel Bay area.”
The National Park also released information last week regarding the environment impact of both options, specifically with regard to the following topics: historic district, floodplains, socioeconomics, and visitor use and experience. Click here to read the document in its entirety.
So this is where we’re at, folks. Do we want to see the property redeveloped or simply cleaned up enough that we can enjoy the beaches? The National Park Service wants to know what you think should happen to Caneel Bay Resort property. You can share your thoughts by filling out a quick form. Click here to access that form. The comment period ends on February 20th.
As always, I will keep you posted on this. And if there is ever a topic you would like to know more about, please feel free to email me at email@example.com.