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HomeNewsLocal newsCaneel Bay Beach Club Set to Open at Honeymoon Beach in November

Caneel Bay Beach Club Set to Open at Honeymoon Beach in November

The view from Honeymoon Beach is tranquil on a Saturday afternoon in October. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

With a little luck and the installation of a new wastewater treatment plant, the Caneel Bay Beach Club will open at Honeymoon Beach within the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John in a few weeks.

Mark Snyder (who should not be confused with Mark Snider, the developer of the Lovango Cay Beach Club and Resort) obtained permission to operate the club from Gary Engle at CBI Acquisitions LLC, which controls the lease to the entire 150-acre Caneel Bay Resort property until Sept. 30, 2023.

Mark Snyder hopes to open the Caneel Bay Beach Club in November. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

As a frequent visitor to Caneel Bay for 15 years, Snyder hopes to “turn back the clock fifty years” and offer the “understated luxury” that characterized the resort until much of it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Snyder plans to offer an array of services — plush beach towels and lounge chairs, beachfront cabanas for shade and privacy, a souvenir shop, and food and beverage service prepared by ZoZo’s restaurant, as well as pop-up local chefs.

The team behind the Caneel Bay Beach Club promises to welcome visitors who arrive by boat, hike in from the Lind Point trail, or arrive by shuttle through the resort’s main gate, according to project manager Natalie Dalmida.

The trick is to get the beach club open as soon as possible because Snyder and his team have no guarantee that they will be in business one year from now.

On Oct. 1, 2023, CBIA’s lease to the property at Caneel Bay expires; at that point, the National Park Service assumes ownership of the property, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen to the entire resort.

In preparation for the Oct. 1, 2023 deadline, the Park Service has spent two years engaging the community to determine a Caneel Bay Redevelopment and Management Plan. The final plan is expected to be presented to the public by October 2023.

However, whether the resort will revert back to the Park Service’s control is now under dispute. Laurance Rockefeller certainly intended that to be the outcome when he donated the property to the federal government in 1983, but in June, EHI Acquisitions, a “sister” company of CBIA, filed suit in District Court of the Virgin Islands for quiet title to the property.

In the years after the hurricane, CBIA’s refusal to rebuild the hotel unless legislation was passed to extend its control over the property has generated controversy.

Snyder is looking beyond “the toxicity surrounding Caneel Bay now” and is hoping instead “to show the world that Caneel Bay can still be a positive place for both locals and visitors.”

In terms of benefiting the local community, Snyder has said he wants to create revenue that stays on St. John and has pledged to “never take a dollar off St. John.”

He has assembled a team of local residents and former Caneel Bay Resort employees to refurbish and manage the beach club.

Team members include DeShawn Thomas, formerly the front desk supervisor at Caneel Bay Resort for four years, who will be heading up guest services at Honeymoon.

The crew at the Caneel Bay Beach Club includes Wednesday Rostad, Natalie Dalmida, DeShawn Thomas, and Jean Magras. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Also on the team is Wednesday Rostad, who was the director of recreation at Caneel Bay for 11 years. She will be supervising the chair rentals, bars and cabanas. Jean Magras, whose family provided fresh fish for the resort, will be supervising the servers.

Natalie Dalmida, an interior and exterior designer who was chosen to head up the team by its members, said, “When I heard about Mark and his intentions to have locals run a beach club, I took a look and fell in love with the beach, and here I am.”

She said the club is using the facilities that already exist on the property and is not planning to construct any new or permanent structures other than a wastewater treatment plant.

The permitting for that plant is still under review by Coastal Zone Management and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, according to Snyder.

On the day that the Source visited the site, Sen. Franklin Johnson from St. Croix was touring the property and was pleased with the club’s light footprint and commitment to follow eco-friendly practices.

Natalie Dalmida, project manager for the Caneel Bay Beach Club, stands with St. Croix Sen. Franklin Johnson at Honeymoon Beach. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

“I’ll be reaching out to DPNR to see what needs to be done with the restrooms and sewage facilities. It’s a real beautiful beach that we hope people can come to and enjoy, and we can get Caneel back again,” Johnson said.

A facility that was open to the public at the site is not a new idea. V.I. Ecotours first opened the Honeymoon Beach Bar and watersports equipment rental shop in 2012.

The popular facility grew to include Bikinis on the Beach restaurant and a gift shop, but it ceased operations in early 2022, shortly after it began offering dinner service. Permitting issues were widely believed to be the reason for closing.

Snyder said he hopes the new beach club will have a different atmosphere from the previous establishment. He hopes to capture the quiet allure of the Caneel Bay Resort, which he began visiting with his girlfriend in the early 2000s.

When Snyder and his girlfriend Sandra decided to marry in 2016, they bought out every room in the Caneel Bay Resort to accommodate the wedding party, attracting the notice of Caneel’s upper management.

One year later, in August 2017, Caneel Bay remained open for a few extra days before closing down for the slow season so that Snyder could host another party. They were among the last guests to stay at Caneel Bay. Hurricane Irma tore through the islands only a week later.

Snyder, who had worked for years in the music industry and is now a maker and purveyor of wines, was already familiar with storm disasters. His wine company — Angels’ Share Wines, based in Red Hook, Brooklyn — suffered major damage when Hurricane Sandy swept through the East Coast in 2012.

After Irma, Angels’ Share produced a label known as Angel’s Hope which was sold to raise funds for the territory. Snyder also raised funds from among his friends and associates to send containers of relief supplies to the territory.

When two of the containers went missing in transit, Snyder got in touch with Ian Samuel, who was working with several philanthropic and community organizations to promote the island’s recovery.

Ian Samuel works with Mark Snyder at Island Hope Wines.(Photo by Amy H. Roberts.)
Ian Samuel works with Mark Snyder at Island Hope Wines. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts.)

Samuel located the missing containers, and he and Snyder became friends.

Over the years, Snyder talked about setting up a wine distributorship on St. John. Samuel said Snyder located a space near the Lime Inn in Cruz Bay, saw an attorney, made all the arrangements and threw the keys to him and Imran Stephen, a young St. John resident who was eager to enter the wine business. Dalmida is also now working with them at Island Hope Wines.

Snyder says he’s told all the employees of the beach club not to give up their day jobs. As far as he knows now, he has a deal with Gary Engle at CBIA for a year. “After that, who knows?” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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