V.I. government chooses company to develop Water Island hotel


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. government has chosen a newly established company to manage Water Island's first hotel resort in almost three decades.

The Water Island Development Company is expected to turn more than 40 acres into a top rate hotel resort that will be in the same location as the Sugarbird Hotel, known formerly as the Water Island Hotel and Beach Club.

Hurricane Hugo destroyed the 55-year-old resort in 1989. The new hotel resort will include beachfront property on Honeymoon Beach and Flamingo Bay.

In early September, the V.I. Property and Procurement Department sought proposals from interested companies. More than 10 firms issued proposals, and eight heritage hotel brands expressed interest in the property, according to a statement issued Tuesday by Government House. Applicants sent their proposals to REVPAR International, a Virginia-based tourism and hospitality consulting firm, by mid-November.

"The Water Island Development Company was chosen based on the collective experience of their team, who individually have financed and developed multiple ventures including resorts," Government House spokesman Jean Greaux Jr. said in the prepared statement.

The development team consists of Stephen Evans-Freke, a principal at St. Thomas-based Auven Therapeutics; Bob Jackson, a developer of numerous multi-family projects; Peter Briggs, co-owner of John Foster Real Estate; Timothy Barber, Water Island property owner and founder of Keynetics; and architect Michael Graves of Michael Graves Foundation. Various other hotel development consultants and architects will be included in the process, according to Government House.

The company, which Briggs said was born from this effort, released a statement ensuring that it plans to build a hotel resort that will fit within the community and will not disrupt the island.

Graves, who the company called "one of most iconic and revered architects in the world today," will be leading the development team. The statement noted that Graves is known for his eco-friendly, sustainable designs.

Though the long-term lease and design has not yet been finalized, government and company officials expressed excitement about the progress.

"A key project has been to again have a superior resort on Water Island that would complement other hotel offerings, while at the same time realize some meaningful economic activity on the island. All of this, of course, must be achieved in a manner that maintains what is charming, environmentally appealing and respectful of what the island and community reflect," Gov. John deJongh Jr. said in the Government House statement.

The island already has an assortment of rental homes, cottages and a campground. To get to and from the island, visitors and residents often take a 10-minute ferry ride from Crown Bay Marina on St. Thomas to Phillips Landing on Water Island.

Fewer than 200 residents call the island home, though it also is a favorite weekend getaway for St. Thomians.

In the past, the governor has assured Water Island residents that the development will be humble, though no one has specified how many rooms will be at the proposed resort or what future improvements on-island will be required for its operation.

"Our undertaking this project is consistent with our commitment to economic development initiatives, but also with the U.S. Department of the Interior's requirement when we assumed direct control in 1996 that we promote the economic development of Water Island for the benefit of the entire Virgin Islands and the Water Island residents," said Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin Maduro. "We have been clear with each respondent on this objective that community engagement is paramount."

Residents told government officials they would be glad to have more utilities on-island because they have no drinkable water and no public sewage system, according to Government House.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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