Once again, the V.I. Port Authority is trying to replace the old Island Beachcomber Hotel that operated for more than 60 years on Lindberg Bay, along the St. Thomas airport road. The small hotel has been closed since 2018.
The authority made a similar effort in 2012 that resulted in an agreement with an entity called Penn Hotels Lindbergh Bay Holdings, LLC, an affiliate of the Penn Hotels, which operates the Treasure Isle Hotel in Tortola. But that deal became mired in difficulties, including permitting challenges, and neither the demolition nor the rebuilding ever materialized.
Officials have not touted the current effort publicly, but the authority issued a Request for Qualification/Request for Proposal in September seeking proposals for the demolition of the old hotel and construction of a new one and leasing the land at the almost two-acre site. The RFP was amended Oct. 6 to allow for the development of a water recreational facility instead of a hotel or in addition to a hotel.
Rumors have been circulating ever since. One suggests a stateside hotelier is interested in developing a resort; another says a cruise line wants to create a water theme park for its passengers’ use on a section of the locally popular beach. Some residents took to Facebook to characterize the effort as being rushed.
Bids are due by Nov. 15 and must be submitted electronically, according to the RFQ/RFP.
Port Authority public information officer Monifa Brathwaite supplied the Source with the general description of the project as found in the RFQ/P, but repeated attempts to get more detailed information from authority officials have been unsuccessful.
The Request for Proposal states that the Port Authority is seeking proposals “from qualified person(s) or firm(s) interested in leasing, demolishing the current buildings on the subject property, designing, constructing and operating at minimum a 3-Star rated hotel and/or a water-related recreational facility.”
It describes the 3-star hotel as “one that provides average amenities, higher quality service which offers a balance between affordability and amenities. The hotel must include wireless internet, a mini-bar along with a restaurant and other services that may be incidental to the operation of a 3-star hotel.”
The water recreational facility is defined as “a water facility with design and operational features that provide recreational activities for the general public — different from that of a conventional swimming pool and purposefully involves immersion of the body partially or totally in the water — and includes but is not limited to water slides, wave pools, etc. The facility shall be a nationally rated quality facility with amenities similar to the qualities of a 3-star hotel.”
The site for the proposed hotel and/or water facility is 1.9163 acres at Parcel Nos. 70-X, 70-T, 70-T-1, 70-U, and 80 Lindberg Bay.
The long history between the Island Beachcomber and its landlord, the Port Authority, includes some tension.
The hotel was built and operated by husband-and-wife team Michael J. and Lorette Resch, now both deceased, shortly after they moved to St. Thomas from the mainland. It was one of several properties they developed in the early years of the island’s tourism boom. Beginning in 1957, the Island Beachcomber operated at the Lindberg site, primarily as a family-run business.
Most recently, it was run by their son, Michael M. Resch.
Resch said the family had a long-term lease on the property, which was renewed once.
Meanwhile, as the territory’s tourism industry expanded, so did the St. Thomas (Cyril E. King) Airport. And property near the airport increased in value.
Resch said his family sold the business in 2002 but got it back in 2009.
In 2010, the Port Authority did not renew the long-term lease and put the hotel on a month-to-month lease instead. Then it put out a request for proposals for a new development on the site.
Three responders proposed hotel developments or redevelopments: Resch, the Penn Hotels and the Beachcomber’s next-door neighbor, Emerald Beach Resort (then a Best Western affiliate).
The resulting agreement between the Port Authority and the Penn Hotel affiliate included a two-year grace period in which the authority could have a third party operate the existing hotel while Penn worked on getting its permits in order.
The third party was Resch, who continued to run the hotel on a month-to-month basis as the interim period lengthened.
As reported by local media, roughly six months before Hurricane Irma damaged the property, during a February 2017 meeting of the Port Authority Board, officials made it clear they wanted to evict Resch. But he continued to manage the hotel for months.
“Then Irma hit, and I said, ‘What am I doing? Why am I fighting?’ ” Resch recalled. “In May of 2018, I gave back the keys” to the Port Authority.
Resch did not say whether he is interested in submitting another proposal in response to the new RFP.
However, St. Thomas hotelier Louis deLyrot, who leases property for Island Beachcomber’s neighboring hotels, Carib Beach Resort and Emerald Beach Resort, said he is interested in making another proposal. In effect, he could expand Emerald Beach from its existing 90 rooms to 150 by adding 60 suites on the adjacent property where the Island Beachcomber building is now.
His existing lease is for nine acres which gives him more than enough room for parking for an expanded resort, he said. That could be an advantage since the Beachcomber’s 1.9 acre-plot is relatively small.
“We are very excited” about the prospect of making “a cohesive resort” and “rebranding” the entire property, he said. “We’re excited to partner with the Port Authority to invest in the future of the Virgin Islands.”
Whether there is competition, and who or what it is, is not known and isn’t likely to be before the Nov. 15 deadline for submission of proposals.