Caneel Closes for Season; Plans 2019 Comeback

NORTH SHORE — Extensive damage caused by two major hurricanes has led the owners of Caneel Bay Resort to call off the coming winter tourist season. But a top executive with the 61-year-old resort says a comeback is in the works.

For now, Caneel has issued hundreds of layoff notices and is informing its loyal guests they will not be inviting them in for the 2017-2018 season. The gates of St. John’s best known resort, however, remain open with security at the gate restricting access to special guests and a skeleton crew.

Speaking from the corporate office in New York, Marketing Director Patrick Kidd said there was significant damage to the infrastructure. Power provided to visiting utility restoration crews and emergency teams is provided by a generator.

“Sadly, subsequently, it was decided by our owners it was not possible to — because of the devastation of St. John — to re-open Caneel Bay this year. So due to that impossibility, it will be closed for the 2017-2018 season. That leaves a small skeleton crew on property and a small contingent of employees doing remedial tidy up,” Kidd said.

At the time Category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck in September, the north shore resort was on its annual hiatus. Some who have had access to the property since have described encroachment of the shoreline into some guest accommodations, dislocated roofs and other signs of destruction.

One of those visitors was veteran Caneel engineer Juan Mota.On the job since the early 1980s, Mota was one of the hundreds of resort employees to receive a layoff notice. Because of his expertise, Mota was called back in late October to address a blocked water line.. The water in one part of the system was going somewhere, he said, but no one knew where.

Mota chatted with an acquaintance as he stepped through the doors of the Department of Labor on St. Thomas, dressed in a crisp navy blue tee shirt with the Caneel Bay logo on it.

In his hand was a two-page letter on corporate stationery and two forms of identification. It was his second trip to Labor since receiving the notice, he said. This time Labor officials said they’d send his paperwork to St. Croix for processing.

“After that, we’ll see what happens,” Mota said.

His efforts appeared to be directed towards making life livable for visitors working to restore the island to a semblance of normalcy in the early post-hurricane weeks. Kidd said he was glad Caneel had a role to play in recovery, despite its own problems.

“We’re actually glad that out of our 166 rooms, we have a handful that are habitable. So we have had the privilege of welcoming some FEMA workers, and that has included some of the linemen who have been brought onto St. John,” Kidd said. “So they are now staying at Caneel Bay and we’re very happy to have them.”

The immediate remediation plan is to recover a few more rooms that suffered minimal damage during the storms and offer lodging to more emergency workers. While that effort moves forward, Kidd said Caneel executives are working to establish a framework for the future.

If things go according to plan, restoration will allow Caneel to re-open as a full-service luxury resort in 2019. A two-year goal is being set, in part, with recognition of Caneel’s role in the St. John economy.

But, Kidd cautioned, the plan is preliminary. “I think it’s going to require many components to come together,” he said.

Caneel is one of several hotel destinations in the St. Thomas-St. John district that has announced a pass on the winter tourist season. The status of hotels undergoing hurricane recovery was discussed before lawmakers at a recent meeting of the 32nd Legislature Committee of the Whole.