Representatives of the Margaritaville Vacation Club by Wyndham Inc. are on St. Thomas this week to meet with local government officials about the project and to get an okay for what are described as minor changes to the original plans.
Meanwhile the group has hired Benton Construction of St. Croix in a joint venture with Moss & Associates of Florida to do the renovation and construction.
Plans call for converting the 290 hotel rooms of the old Renaissance/Grand Beach Palace Resort on Water Bay in the Smith Bay area of St. Thomas’ East End into 262 condominium-style timeshare units, and then selling those as part of celebrity Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville franchise.
The project was announced in March about the time the company received approval for Economic Development Commission tax benefits. Construction was to begin in July and Phase One – including the public areas and some of the units – was scheduled for completion at the end of 2014 with an opening predicted by or before January 2015.
Construction hasn’t started, but the project’s St. Thomas attorney, George Dudley, said Tuesday that the owners are still hopeful about meeting that deadline.
They will meet this week with officials at EDC, Public Works, Labor, and both the permitting and Coastal Zone Management sections of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Dudley said.
He described the design modifications as “cosmetic.” It will be up to DPNR staff to determine whether they require a change to the permits.
The meeting with Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls will center on flood control, Dudley said.
“He’s got water runoff issues in Smith Bay,” Dudley said. “Our plans for dealing with the flooding need to mesh with the government’s.”
At Labor, the talk will be about Wyndham’s commitment to give first preference in hiring to employees who were laid off when the Grand Beach Palace closed suddenly in 2004.
“It’s been a long time,” Dudley said, “but Wyndham agreed to meet the commitment” when it purchased the property. He said a couple of people have contacted him about jobs and he has referred them to Wyndham’s human resources office in Florida.
At some point in the future, the company will open an office on St. Thomas to address hiring personnel.
Dudley described the meeting with EDC officials as a “courtesy call.” The commission monitors the project to ensure it is in compliance with its EDC certificate, and that includes meeting deadlines. If the resort isn’t ready to open on time, it may need a modification from the EDC.
Dudley flatly denied a rumor that there was some problem with outstanding property taxes plaguing the project.
There were some due when the old resort closed, but “they were paid” by Wyndham when it purchased the property, he said, adding that “you can’t transfer property without taxes being paid.”
“There is no tax problem,” he said.
The property consists of 25 acres, according to a Wyndham press release at the time of the Margaritaville announcement. Wyndham is investing $90 million. When completed, the resort is expected to provide 130 jobs.