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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, July 19, 2024


April 18, 2002 – Plans laid long ago to revitalize the former Sea Cliff resort and develop other portions of Water Island to attract vacationers are moving forward, according to one of the movers.
"We're back on track after two and a half years," William Couter, spokesman for developer David McArdle, said Tuesday. The McArdle family has been the master leaseholder for Water Island for 35 years and built the Sea Cliff Hotel, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Couter said plans to redevelop resort facilities on Water Island date back to 1999 and include a deep-water dock, a marina and a hotel complex on Honeymoon Beach. He said McArdle had provided requested plans and drawings to various government agencies, but the approval process has been stalled for some time.
"We're talking about a $50 million project and 250 jobs," Couter said.
As a result of a letter from Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, a meeting has been scheduled with Property and Procurement Department officials to discuss the proposal, Couter said this week. Cole, in his letter, called the project a "clear winner for the residents of the St. Thomas, the people of Water Island and definitely the government of the Virgin Islands."
Cole wrote that the McArdle family's "rich history with Water Island" warranted a response to the development proposal.
That history goes back to 1967, according to Couter. He said the U.S. Army bought Water Island from The West Indian Co. in 1945 for $10,000, then proceeded to build fortifications, barracks and other installations — and to conduct chemical warfare research there until 1952. The Army recently completed a 10-year study into the effects of the chemical weaponry on Water Island and the surrounding waters and is expected to release its findings this summer.
In 1952, Couter noted, the Army transferred the island to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which then leased it to developer Walter Phillips, who lived there until his death several years ago. Interior gave Phillips a 20-year lease extendable for 20 more years, with the construction of a 50-room hotel a requirement of the extension, Couter said.
In 1966, realizing that he would be unable to build the hotel, Phillips went to Gov. Ralph Paiewonsky "and asked him if he knew anyone" interested in acquiring an island, Couter said. Approached by Paiewonsky, the McArdle family bought out the lease in 1967, bulldozed an old existing hotel and proceeded to build the Sea Cliff.
In 1972, Couter said, the lease that had been transferred to the McArdles was renewed for the second 20 years. The Sea Cliff continued to operate until 1989, when Hurricane Hugo struck, devastating the hotel, which closed soon after and never reopened.
Over the years, Couter said, then-Delegate Ron de Lugo worked on getting Water Island transferred to the V.I. government. The first of four stages of that transfer occurred in 1996, making Water Island the fourth sizable U.S. Virgin Island.
In 1997, McArdle won a lawsuit against the V.I. government giving him the right to renew his lease on the old Sea Cliff property yet again, Coulter said, and now the family wants to rebuild the property in three phases.
For the first phase, according to Coulter, the plans are "to build another hotel complex at Honeymoon Beach," consisting of 25 single-story, two-unit cottages set back 100 feet from the high water line. The project would utilize the existing bar and restaurant of the old Sea Cliff.
He said the plans also call for a pavilion at one end of the beach. The structure would be open to the public — a public that he said has been using the Sea Cliff bar and restaurant for meetings and recreation since 1989.
Overall, Couter said, the planned development would have a "low impact on the environment." It will include a parking lot for up to 20 cars and 15 golf courts at the end of the beach. All of the units will be rented with a golf cart, he said, and all of the roads through the project will be "golf-cart sized."
Couter said the second phase of the project will involve the old Sea Cliff hotel site, where another 80 units and another restaurant are planned.
The third phase, he said, is the development of a marina complex in Flamingo Bay with 35 guest accommodation units and 200 boat slips. "It's an upscale project," he said, and the units will rent for $400 to $500 a day.
Plans also call for a pond, a "huge pool," a dock and ferry service between Water Island and St. Thomas. "Water Island is very quiet and peaceful," Couter said. "We're trying to keep it that way."

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