Developers of the new soon-to-be 126-room hotel near Havensight Mall presented their case for tax incentives through the Economic Development Commission Thursday morning. They anticipate a March 2025 opening date.
Once complete, the 71,000-square-foot, five-story structure will be branded Hampton by Hilton Hotel, said Erika Kellerhals, an attorney representing the project before the EDC. The hotel will feature a pool area, indoor and outdoor bar and patio, a small kitchen facility for a limited breakfast service, fitness center, and a meeting room space.
“I’ve been waiting a very long time to bring a new hotel before the Economic Development Commission,” Kellerhals said. “And the nice thing about being able to bring this application forward about building a hotel in St. Thomas is that this is not an empty promise. Construction is actually happening as we speak and as of the date of submission of the application, Haven Development broke ground on the construction.”
The overall plan for the hotel property is to include green space open to the community and a visitor center to help both leisure and business travelers better know the territory, she said.
“It’s well positioned to meet the needs of both corporate and leisure lodging demands. The development and construction of this hotel is expected to fill a unique niche in the market, catering to business travelers, those staying briefly on the islands, and leisure travelers seeking proximity to downtown’s rich history,” Kellerhals said.
Unlike all-inclusive resorts that encourage visitors to not leave the property, the Havensight hotel was designed for community integration, said Shaun Miller, the project’s developer and owner of Haven Development.
Local restaurants will benefit by developers purposefully limiting food service at the hotel, Miller said. In-room tablets could allow guests to order food or online shop from local vendors. With no airport shuttle planned, local taxis will be tasked with ferrying visitors to and from the property, which Miller hoped would spark a return to morning flights from St. Thomas because airline pilots and crew will be able to overnight on island easier.
“I’m hoping that with a hotel, we can encourage airlines to start morning service again. So that’s one of my goals and to talk to the airlines. We have a place for the crew to stay and I would like to focus on getting that morning flight going again from St. Thomas,” he said.
Construction plans were altered — moved back slightly from the water’s edge — to ensure no interference with the nearby cruise pier, Miller said. In-ground work should be complete before Monday, Miller said, and above ground work begin soon after.
“Before we started the pilings, we did an environmental assessment of the area, both with video. We do have vibration monitors around the entire area. And in fact, we moved the hotel back to avoid any of the tiebacks on that, on the WICO dock. I’m happy to report on hopefully by this weekend, the pilings will all be complete. And then we can move to start the construction above ground,” Miller said.
Haven Development anticipates spending a minimum of $22 million in capital to develop the hotel property, Kellerhals said. This includes investment in infrastructure, construction of the hotel, furnishings, fixtures, equipment, and more.
“The investment for this development is not only significant in terms of dollars, but also in terms of indirect benefit to the local economy. It’s not just the construction, engineering, electrical, plumbing, and other trade contractors working on this site. Haven Development’s committed to hiring 21 full-time employees within 18 months from submission of the application,” she said. “They’re also anticipating that there will be a significant number of part-time positions.”
Haven Development was in the process of interviewing management companies, she said. Employees will have fully paid health insurance coverage, 50 percent premiums for dependents, tuition reimbursement, training, and a generous leave policy, among other commitments, Kellerhals said.
“They’re also committed to supporting charitable organizations located in the USVI and serving the people of this territory. In addition to its contribution to the Territorial Scholarship Fund and $2,500 per year to the Department of Labor, Haven Development is committed to providing a minimum of $50,000 a year to local organizations, with at least 55 percent of this amount being dedicated to publication initiatives,” she said.
The EDC did not vote on the application but may likely do so next month.