Mar. 10, 2005 Almost a year ago to the day, Yacht Haven's new owners, Andrew Farkas and Elie Finegold of IN-USVI Island Capital, broke ground on the new Yacht Haven USVI. Amid much pomp and ceremony a small backhoe took the first bite out of the derelict structure, preparing the way for its demolition.
The last bite has long since been taken, Finegold said Thursday.
"It has been a difficult, arduous and expensive process," he told Rotary Club of St. Thomas members meeting at Mariott Frenchman's Reef, but not without its rewards. Work is nearly on schedule, despite heavy rains and storm threats last fall.
Finegold described some of the problems the project has encountered. "We had to remove a tremendous amount of asbestos," he said. "In fact, asbestos was actually built in to some beams in the hotel. There were seven places in the world where that happened, and Yacht Haven was one of them."
Despite the few snags, Finegold said, "Nobody noticed the work going on," and that was just how he wanted it. "Everything was thoughtfully and carefully done, and there was not one incident, no complaints."
This last remark drew a solid round of applause from the Rotarians. In fact, the asbestos work was painstakingly accomplished, monitored closely by environmental agencies. The material was placed in what are called "bladder bags," and shipped in the sealed containers to landfills on the mainland authorized to dispose of asbestos. (See "Amid the Ruins, Yacht Haven USVI is Emerging").
John Stadler, project construction director, joined Finegold. "It's an exciting time for us, a great time. And you haven't seen anything yet," he said.
Stadler said he frequently sees people scratching their heads, wondering what's happening. "There's lots of work going on that you don't see," he said. Stadler said a great amount of the work done in the last few months has involved "laying the infrastructure, power lines, internet connections, so you won't see overhead lines."
Inside the area, which is enclosed by black nylon fence, there are cranes, compressors and trucks, Stadler said. "In about six months, there will be 200 men working in a single day," he said. "About the time we got the old piles out of the harbor, 100 new ones were put back in. We're about to wrap up the dredging now."
That dredging is making possible what the owners say will be the "single largest mega-yacht basin in the world."
Finegold and the V. I. community have long lamented the deplorable condition of the Yacht Haven harbor. No more. "It will be a home for the new mega-yachts," he said.
He said many countries in Europe, and in Russia, Turkey and the Arab world are busy building yachts, "and they will be coming here." He said 500 boats of more than 80 feet are being built each year, and the new marina will have dedicated berths for 400 mega-yachts, along with a premier yacht club and gourmet restaurant situated on the end of a 225-foot pier.
Even with the economic downturn in the states, Finegold said tourism figures for the V.I., and for the whole Caribbean are "on a regional upsurge." He said he counted at least 20 of the giant yachts in the harbor or tied up on the waterfront this morning.
Finegold expressed gratitude to the community for its support of the project, especially local banks that provided financing. "I want to thank Cassam Pancham at First Bank, and Valentino McBean at Banco Popular de Puerto Rico," he said.
Finegold said his team has been working closely with the Public Works Department. "We have planned a beautiful road with a median strip filled with palm trees," he said, adding that a lighting plan for the area has received federal approval.
Asked how the road would connect with Mandela Circle, Finegold explained there will be a four-way intersection with "stacking lanes" so traffic would not back up. One of those lanes would be inside the Yacht Haven property, he said. Additionally, he said a three-lane road will extend past the property toward town.
The first phase of the project, scheduled for completion in mid-2006, will include:
– 80,000 square feet of retail space,
– 30,000 square feet of office space,
– three waterfront restaurants,
– 12 condominium units,
– and the yacht club.
Finegold said the retail units are slated for both local and off-island businesses. "We will bring in some designer brands not represented here now," he said. "I know everybody loves to shop."
On questioning from the audience, Finegold said the company is trying to mitigate the current dust caused at the western end of the project. "We have watering trucks and we do water down the area," he said.
For a complete history of the project, type Yacht Haven into the search engine in the Local section. The Source has reported extensively on the project since its inception.
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