Jan. 10, 2002 – The owners of the derelict Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina are ready to raze what remains of its structures and get going on redevelopment of the property and some seven acres of adjacent land leased from The West Indian Co. as soon as the powers that be approve their demolition and development permits.
Insignia Nautica, which acquired major interest in the four-acre Yacht Haven property last July, submitted an 800-page application for the permits to the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee on Thursday. Approval will be needed by CZM, the Legislature and the governor.
"Once we get through the public approval process," Elie Finegold, executive vice president of the New York-based firm, said late Thursday, "we will start demolition and site work immediately."
He declined to project how long the CZM and legislative approval processes, including public hearings, might take, or to cite a dollar figure for the planned development.
But, assuming the company will get the go-ahead, the plan is to "raze everything on the property now," Finegold said. "The current hotel structure is economically unrecoverable," he said. In addition to extensive damage from Hurricane Marilyn, "it has asbestos issues."
To those who have been waiting and watching for something to be done about the eyesore property that has been largely abandoned since it was trashed by Marilyn more than seven years ago, such sentiments may sound familiar.
In May of 2001, the Source published a story which began: "The new owners of what's left of the old Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina hope to move forward on several fronts in coming weeks toward rebuilding the complex in an eventual investment that could total hundreds of millions of dollars."
The new owner at that time was PRM Realty Group of Chicago. PRM sold major interest in the hotel and marina last July to Insignia Nautica.
In early December, the WICO board of directors, meeting on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, "approved the full preliminary plans for development of the Yacht Haven basin as presented by IN-USVI, LLC, the company with whom WICO has entered into a long-term development and leasing arrangement for the Long Bay property," a Dec. 11 WICO release stated. IN-USVI refers to Insignia Nautica.
The meeting took place at The Atlantis Resort. The architectural firm and landscape architects who designed that property also are on Insignia's development team for Yacht Haven.
The release specified that IN-USVI had a deadline of Dec. 31 to present its master plan for review and stated that the WICO board had authorized its president and chief executive officer, Edward E. Thomas Sr., to approve the plan if acceptable and co-sign the CZM permit application "to confirm WICO's consent to the development and its approval of IN-USVI's request for the development permit."
Finegold said Insignia Nautica's development plan, honed in six months of meetings with local government, business and community groups, "differs in style a little bit" from what PRM had envisioned but stills involves a hotel — of about 125 rooms — and a "world-class marina," along with "mixed-use commercial, retail and entertainment" facilities.
A key element is a waterfront esplanade, a public walkway from the cruise ship dock to the public park area across from the Lovers Lane intersection where the Territorial Court Rising Stars Steel Orchestra pan yard is located, he said.
"We're undertaking to work with the parks department to turn that parkland into a public entertainment, children's play and public recreational area," Finegold said. And the Rising Stars need not fear for their turf. They not only will retain the use of the pan yard, he said, but "there will be a performance area next door where they will be able to give public performances."
According to a release from Insignia Nautica, key participants in its development plans include the architecture firm of Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo; the landscape architecture firm of EDSA; St. Thomas civil and environmental engineer William T. McComb, who serves as the project's CZM consultant, as he did for PRM; the production architect HKS; PRM, which is providing consulting services; and Insignia Development Group, which will oversee development and construction.
Insignia last year helped fund the establishment of The Foundation for the Accreditation of USVI Schools Inc., a not-for-profit organization. To date, the release said, the foundation has raised nearly $100,000 toward its mission of improving the quality of public education in the territory. It underwrote a three-day conference for local educators at which representatives of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools provided "a road map for the reaccreditation of the Virgin Islands public schools."
More information about Insignia's parent company can be found at the Insignia Financial Group Web site.
Five years of plans by three owners
Insignia Nautica is the third company to purchase the Yacht Haven Hotel and Marina since Hurricane Marilyn struck in 1995.
In 1997, a group led by wealthy Malaysian developer Tan Kay Hock acquired the property from the Bank of Nova Scotia for about $5.5 million in a bankruptcy sale. Then-Gov. Roy L. Schneider took credit for attracting Tan to the territory and touted the purchase and Tan's development plans as a boon for the local economy.
Tan proposed to develop a $200 million "Asian Village" mega-complex of commercial, retail, hotel, condominium and marine facilities on the site but was turned down by WICO in his bid to lease the adjacent property necessary to the project, considered by many to be overly grandiose for the locale. In September of 1999, having made virtually no capital improvements, he put Yacht Haven back on the market — for $8.5 million.
A year later, in September of 2000, Tan got his asking price from PRM Realty Group, a Chicago-based resort and waterfront development firm, which had signed a purchase agreement in April of that year. PRM's predecessor company, VMS Realty, at one point owned Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort. The major CZM permit that had been granted to Tan Kay Hock was transferred to PRM and its local subsidiary, Long Bay Partners.
Again, the new owners pledged "redevelopment of the hotel site" and "a major upgrade of the marina and retail facilities."
In May of 2001, a PRM release stated that the company could be filing for demolition and development permits "in a matter of weeks," and company principal David Dibo said he anticipated demolition work occurring "within six months or so." The release also stated that negotiations for lease of the adjacent land "should be successfully completed by the end of this month." However, WICO spokesman Calvin Wheatley said a lease was contingent on a written proposal from PRM, which it had yet to receive.
In November of 2001, PRM submitted its application to CZM for a permit to demolish the dilapidated Yacht Haven buildings and stated that it intended to replace them with a 150-room hotel, 184 time-share units and a new marina in a project estimated at $100 million. At that point, PRM was in negotiation with WICO to lease the land west of the hotel.
Last February, 18 months after PRM bought the hotel-marina property, its subsidiary PRM Caribbean signed a lease with WICO for the adjacent seven acres of Long Bay land. A release issued by WICO at the time said PRM's plans were for a "mega-yacht marina, hospitality and retail establishments" and a "public promenade," along with "the beautification of the adjacent Housing Parks and Recreation property for the creation of a public park."
In the release, Dibo said his company anticipated CZM approval of its pending demolition
permit that same month and expected to submit its development permit application by spring of 2002, after "conducting the necessary economic and environmental studies."
At a February 2002 CZM hearing on the demolition permit application, League of Women Voters representatives testified that some of the hotel structures contain asbestos and that there are underground storage tanks on the property.
In July of 2002, Insignia Nautica Inc., a subsidiary of New York-based Insignia Financial Group Inc., acquired major ownership of the hotel and marina, with PRM staying on as a minority partner.
The Long Bay Coalition, a group founded in 1996 that comprises the League of Women Voters, the Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John, V.I. 2000 and a number of individuals, has lobbied since its inception for using the WICO-owned filled land, created when The West Indian Co. dredged the St. Thomas harbor in the 1980s, for public recreational and cultural purposes. The adjacent Housing Parks and Recreation land was once the site of public tennis courts and a swimming pool.
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