Secret Harbour sees boost in tourist traffic


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ST. THOMAS - The recent attempts to block public access to Sapphire beach has meant more tourists are being directed by taxi drivers to the small but beautiful beach at Secret Harbour.

The increased tourist traffic may be vexing to the condo owners at Secret Harbour, but the hotel is taking it in stride.

"That's been going on for two weeks," Secret Harbour Resort manager Kevin Keating said. "I don't have any problem with it. The more the merrier. As long as you give them all the tools, it should be fine."

Keating said the limited parking and inadequate taxi drop-off areas at the resort on the East End of St. Thomas are making the area more congested, but he is trying to find solutions to address the issue.

The restaurant and dive shop are certainly seeing a boost in business, and as the hotel's tenants, that is good for the resort, Keating said.

Diane Gonda, who owns the Aqua Action Dive Center with her husband, Sam Piscitello, said they have definitely noticed an increase in business overall this season.

"When Sapphire closed, we noticed another boost," Gonda said.

The shop rents snorkel gear, kayaks, paddle boards and beach chairs, although they have only 30 chairs compared with the 200 Sapphire had available.

"We're trying to protect what we've got here," Gonda said. "And we're not going to contract with cruise ships the way that Sapphire did because we don't have the space."

"We welcome everybody, certainly, but we just ask that everybody respects the reef and the beach," she said.

Former mortgage holder Dean Morehouse of Beachside Associates took ownership of the Seagrape building and most of the property at Sapphire Beach in December. The condo units and marina are owned by SBRMCOA, LLC, the condominium association at Sapphire.

Morehouse and the condo association have been fighting in court for years about the use of the property.

When he took possession of the property two weeks ago, Morehouse boarded up the Seagrape building, kicked out the concierge, Budget Rent-A-Car and Dive In dive shop and closed the beach's only public bathrooms.

Morehouse also blocked off the taxi drop off area and barricaded the public beach access parking lot.

While the beach is still accessible from other points, and a small restaurant and bar that leases space from the condo association is still open, many taxi drivers are choosing to take their guests somewhere else because of the lack of restrooms at Sapphire.

"All of the taxis that went to Sapphire, now they're coming to Secret Harbour," taxi driver Bruce Flamon said Wednesday. "If you go to Lindqvist, you have to pay $2 to get in and you get no bar, no restaurant, no bathroom."

For tourists who want an East End beach with great snorkeling and amenities such as beach chairs, food and drinks and restrooms, Coki Point and Secret Harbour are the two main options, Flamon said.

He said he takes cruise ship passengers to both beaches, but likes to take them to a resort beach so they can be inspired to come back to the island for a longer stay.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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