“There’s a lot of interest” in the Port Authority’s Request for a Proposal to replace the old Island Beachcomber Hotel on St. Thomas, according to Carlton Dowe, the authority’s executive director.
“Right now we have five or six people who have picked up packages” of paperwork needed for a formal proposal, Dowe said in an interview Monday.
No one has completed the process, but the deadline is Nov. 15 and potential contractors typically brush up against the deadline for a project. “People wait until the day before, or maybe that morning,” to submit their paperwork, Dowe said.
The authority is looking for someone to demolish the old hotel — which has been closed since 2018 — and build a three-star hotel or better in its place; alternatively, or in addition to a hotel, it would consider a water-themed recreational area.
The original proposal was for only a hotel; it was amended about three weeks later to include the possibility of a water feature, leading to some speculation that a cruise line might be interested in creating a recreation area for its passengers.
Dowe would not discuss “rumors” about the origin of the idea. “We just wanted to broaden it up,” he said. “We didn’t want to limit it.”
The Port Authority has tried for years to redevelop the site, which is on Lindbergh Bay, about a mile from the airport terminal at Cyril E. King Airport. After decades of leasing it to the builders/original owners of the Island Beachcomber, the Resch family, the authority decided not to renew the long-term lease. Beginning in 2010, the owners were on a month-to-month lease, with the authority actively looking at replacement options.
In November of 2012, Penn Hotels of the British Virgin Islands, under an affiliate created in the USVI, was selected to replace the old hotel with a multimillion-dollar resort. They ran into difficulties immediately with permitting issues. There may have been other factors, such as the 2017 hurricanes or the tourism slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic that contributed to problems.
Whatever the reasons, the project didn’t even get as far as razing the old hotel which continued to operate under management from Michael Resch and on a month-to-month lease. Resch says he vacated the hotel and returned the keys to the Port Authority in 2018.
Dowe said that the Port Authority cut ties with Penn Hotels on March 16, 2021. “We told them we were terminating the agreement.” He declined to discuss the termination further but in response to questions did say that “to date, we are in no legal dispute” with Penn Hotels.
The property’s proximity to the airport makes it a prime location for housing airline personnel, Dowe said, something that has happened in the past.
But there are some drawbacks too. It is a small lot, just under two acres, and it is zoned W-1 Waterfront which, according to the authority’s public information officer Monifa Brathwaite, means a development there is limited in height to three floors.
Once proposals are in, Dowe said Port Authority staff and consultants will evaluate them and make a recommendation to the board. That process probably will take “a month or so.”
After the authority decides on a proposal, it will negotiate the details. The length of the lease, for instance, will depend greatly on the level of investment involved, Dowe said, adding that the authority does not anticipate contributing to the investment. As is typical, whatever is built on the site will revert to the authority at the end of the lease (as did the Island Beachcomber.)