While the economy is slowly rebounding, senators’ approval Wednesday of permits for Marriott Frenchman’s Reef Hotel and the Sea Chest will allow those businesses to make much-needed investments.
What was approved during the beginning of this week’s marathon session was actually a modification of the Frenchman’s existing permit, which would allow for the rebuilding of the dock already on the property, construction of a pump house and the installation of a 300-foot intake line into the bay — all components that Hotel General Manager Jose Gonzalez Espinosa has described as a necessary part of the infrastructure needed for the overall project.
In previous Senate hearings and an exclusive interview with the Source, Espinosa has explained that the renovations, which will shut down a portion of the hotel from May 1 to the end of September, are necessary to transform Frenchman’s into a more attractive and competitive facility with unique and even eco-friendly features.
At a Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee meeting earlier this month, Espinosa said about 85 percent of the hotel’s guests currently frequent the dock in order to catch a ferry or take a tour, but making it look better could bump that number up to 90 percent, he said. The new 12-foot-wide dock will be somewhat smaller than the existing one, with concrete pilings and either wooden planks or a fiberglass grid on top, according to designers on the project.
Meanwhile, the hotel has gradually been going green and hopes to continue its efforts by installing central air, instead of having smaller air conditioning units in each of the guest rooms. As opposed to traditional electric systems, sea water will be used to cool down the air. Sea water will also be mixed with the hot water discharged from the system, which will lower the temperature before it’s released back into the ocean.
Frenchman’s has received $48 million from its owners to do the repairs on the hotel, which range from refurbishing the balconies to expanding the spa and fitness area.
Senators also put their stamp of approval Wednesday on a permit that allows Sea Chest, which was founded in 1948, to tear down and remove its outside storage and office trailers so it can expand the store and warehouse. Testifying during a Senate committee meeting earlier this week, store manager Craig Kirchoff said that while the facility would only be expanded by 8,400 square feet, the extra height would make all the difference in terms of storage.
Kirchoff — whose family opened the store on St. Thomas in 1948 — said both the new and old building would also be retrofitted to make the business more energy efficient, including redoing the electrical wiring, replacing the air conditioning units, installing more efficient insulation and putting in skylights.
Also approved was Sea Chest’s lease agreement, allowing the store to continue to occupy 42,253 square feet of submerged lands in Crown Bay. The lease is for 20 years, at an annual rate of $65,000.
This lease agreement and permit would allow Sea Chest to get the bank financing needed to amortize its investment of $1.5 to $1.8 million for the construction, energy retrofitting, merchandizing and inventory expansion.
Senators also voted to:
-rezone .6024 acres in Estate Bonne Resolution on St. Thomas from R-1 (residential-low density) to R-2 (residential -low density -one and two family), which allows the owners to divide the land in two for their heirs;
-rezone .740 acres in Estate Neltjberg on St. Thomas from R-1 (residential-low density) to R-2 (residential-low density-one and two family), allowing the owners to split the land in two;
-rezone .86 acres in Estate St. Peter on St. Thomas from R-1 (residential-low density) to R-2 (residential-low density-one and two family) to allow the owners to divide the land between their heirs.
All senators were present during Wednesday’s session.