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HomeNewsLocal newsVINP Superintendent Updates Community about Caneel Bay and Park Improvements

VINP Superintendent Updates Community about Caneel Bay and Park Improvements

A photo of the dock and the main beach at Caneel Bay, which is most likely to be opened to the public soon. (Image from Caneel Redevelopment Overview, an NPS video)

A portion of the shuttered property that was formerly the Caneel Bay Resort on St. John will be open to the public within a matter of weeks, according to Penny Del Bene, the superintendent of the Virgin Islands National Park.

The National Park Service is finalizing the installation of new signage and security measures to assure the public’s safety when a limited area is reopened at Caneel Bay, Del Bene said.

Many of the buildings on the 150-acre property have lain in ruin since the resort was heavily damaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. Aside from two businesses that have been allowed to operate under the previous lease-holder’s agreement, the iconic resort has remained off-limits to the public.

 

At the meeting, one St. John resident said she celebrated when the sign at the entrance of the former resort was removed and replaced with a National Park Service sign; it indicated that after a seven-year wait to gain access to the property – which included a long legal battle – the change in ownership was complete. “It was the prettiest park sign.  We waited so long,” said Kathy Guidi.

A visitor’s image is reflected in a new sign at the entrance to Caneel Bay. (Photo by Kathy Guidi)

Del Bene gave an update on the status of Caneel Bay and the National Park in general at a meet-and-greet event held at Cinnamon Bay Campground Tuesday afternoon.

Hosted by the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, the event was an opportunity for members of St. John’s non-profit organizations to meet Del Bene informally and let her field questions. Del Bene, who said she was learning things about the park and the island every day, took over as superintendent of the VINP in April.

Del Bene answers questions at a meeting at Cinnamon Bay on Tuesday. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts photo)

For those who missed the event this past week, there will be many other opportunities to meet with park management. Del Bene said she was committed to holding monthly public meetings on the second Wednesday of each month from July until December.

On the Friday following the next meeting (scheduled for Wednesday, July 16,) Del Bene said she hopes to release the 42-page Request for Qualifications, the first stage in the procurement process to rehabilitate Caneel Bay Resort.

A Request for Qualifications, or RFQ, gives an overview of the project and asks potential developers to state their skills and experience for the type of project being planned.  The National Park Service will then examine the responses and invite selected developers to submit more detailed proposals during a second stage known as the Request for Proposals.

Although the details of the RFQ are still being finalized, Del Bene said a future developer may construct up to 166 overnight units, the same number that was in operation when the hotel closed in 2017. Ultimately, the developer that is selected will also be responsible for demolition and clean-up of the hurricane-damaged hotel buildings.

A map shows the overall plan that was selected by the NPS for the development of Caneel Bay. (Image from Caneel Redevelopment Overview, an NPS video)

For an overview of the Park Service’s plans, please click here.

Some of the overnight units, which have sustained some damage but remain structurally sound, now qualify as historic structures and may be renovated.

Meanwhile, NPS fire crews from off island will be assisting VINP staff later this year by cutting back vegetation to protect the old colonial structures – including a sugar factory – that date back for centuries.

A slide from an NPS video shows some of the cultural features at Caneel Bay. (Image from Caneel Redevelopment Overview, an NPS video)

Del Bene said funding from the Historical Preservation Training Center is available to stabilize and improve some historic structures on St. John, including the Reef Bay Factory, and the Creque Marine Railway on Hassel Island in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, which is also part of the Virgin Islands National Park.

Del Bene said the VINP has just hired a new chief facilities manager, Nick Crowley, filling a vacancy that has been left open for three years. In response to a question about clearing overgrown roadside vegetation, Del Bene said Crowley was “catching up with equipment that’s not working,” including roadside trimmers.

Kelly McKinney, executive director of Island Green Living Association, asked Del Bene to work with her organization to implement a comprehensive recycling program throughout the park. Tonia Lovejoy, executive director of Friends of the VINP, pledged to assist with the initiative.

Building a recycling program requires having willing partners nearby, “and it looks like we have that here,” Del Bene said.

“There are a lot of things this park needs,” she continued. “Our staffing has been diminished, especially since the storm. It’s about recruitment, and we want to hire people who are in the Virgin Islands. This will take a bit of time. Our focus is on building a team.”

Visitors hope to gain access by land to beaches like Scott Bay at Caneel. (Source photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Cid Hamling, a long-time activist and business owner, told Del Bene that St. John residents had gotten used to park superintendents coming and going with so much frequency that the term “soupe du jour” became a local joke. She asked Del Bene directly if she intended to stay long enough to see her plans become reality.

Del Bene took some time responding, saying she spent nine years in South Florida, and had no intention of leaving her job there when she saw a notice for a temporary work detail as the VINP superintendent. [That was in the fall of 2023, following the resignation of the previous superintendent, Nigel Fields.] Del Bene took the temporary post, she said, “And I fell in love with the people, the place, and the opportunity for things to finally happen.”

“The cherry on the top, she added,” was that her husband fell in love with St. John, too.  He had never liked South Florida and encouraged her to apply for the permanent position on St. John. “He will stay with me here, in spite of being hurricane-phobic, and I have no intention of going anywhere else,” Del Bene said.

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