The campground sits just above Little Maho Bay, with steps leading right from the sand to the tents, above.
Fans of the pioneering eco-resort Maho Bay Campground exhaled a collective sigh of relief last week, while still keeping their fingers crossed.
The future of the popular North Shore campground tucked into the V.I. National Park with stunning views of Francis Bay and Whistling Cay has been uncertain over the past few years.
Maho Bay Camps owner Stanley Selengut leased the property more than 35 years ago. His lease for the 13.8-acre campground was originally set to expire in June 2011, but the campground was granted a one-year lease extension, putting their closing date at June 2012.
Well, go ahead and push that day back one more year. Selengut announced in a Maho Bay Campground newsletter last week that he accepted a second one-year lease extension.
“The Maho landowners have just extended the lease through June of 2013,” Selengut wrote in the newsletter. “I agreed to this with great relief. This last lease extension will offer everyone an opportunity to enjoy Maho for two more winter seasons.”
The one year extensions, while welcome by Selengut and Maho’s many fans and employees, are not conducive for the campground’s growth or even upkeep.
“I will not accept another short-term extension,” Selengut wrote in the Maho newsletter. “We will either get a long-term lease which will allow for some wonderful capital improvements and investment in new technologies or close at the end of the lease in June 2013.”
“You can imagine the stress and anxiety of our employees, boat captains, artists, concessionaires and all the small businesses who make Maho special, not knowing if they have a job next year and who need to prepare for their own future,” Selengut wrote. “This additional year means a great deal to our guests, staff, and the island of St. John. It means that we all get extra time to do or redo some of our most favorite things.”
Although the asking price for the property recently dropped from $32 million to $28 million, the return on investment for Selengut still puts purchasing the property out of reach, according to Adrian Davis, Maho Bay Camps manager.
“Currently Stanley is not interested in purchasing the land because at the current asking price, the return on investment is somewhere around 50 years,” said Davis. “We just can’t make those figures work. We’ve done the math.”
“As a campground, it is slightly profitable every year, but to be able to pay off buying the land at the return of investment, it’s just not something we can do,” said Davis. “We’d rather do another long-term lease.”
If nothing changes, Maho Bay Campground will close in June 2013 and management will start shifting operations to Selengut’s Concordia Eco-Preserve, which sits on land the eco-resort pioneer owns.
“At this point, if nothing else changes we’ll start shifting operations and get ready to close in June 2013,” said Davis.
While the imminent closure of the popular campground will be a loss to many, its impact might be felt the hardest in terms of dollars and cents.
“In the last 12 months, Maho has brought in about 7,000 guests to St. John,” said Davis. “If you do the math, that is 7,000 people who need taxis and ferries and food and more. That’s millions of dollars for St. John and that is really the important part us being around for another year.”
“Without Maho Bay, it will be a big hit to the local economy,” Davis said.
Several organizations, including a guest led initiative, are still hoping to raise enough funds to save the campground, but Selengut advised in his latest newsletter, to enjoy the area while it lasts.
“It has been a tough year for many, which meant the possibility of not visiting Maho one last time,” he wrote. “We hope this will afford you the opportunity. There is a special magic here that cannot be found anywhere else, and we are all grateful to have just a little more time to enjoy it.”
For more information about Maho Bay Campground check out the website www.maho.org. For more information on how to help save the campground, check out the Facebook page Save Maho Bay Camps.