Dec. 13, 2005 A group of taxi drivers awaiting fares at the Buccaneer Resort last Friday were discussing news that was leaking out about a proposed resort development on the west side of St. Croix.
One of the drivers laughed and said, "So, what is that now? They have five of them proposed."
There is reason for skepticism about proposed resort developments on St. Croix: One of the proposals Golden Gaming has been out there for 10 years and nothing has happened.
But government officials and the developers of a major new resort, which would encompass more than 2,500 acres and be valued at more than $500 million at completion, were doing all they could to dispel that skepticism at a news conference at Government House Tuesday.
Adam Holwerda, a partner with lead developer Throgmartin Company, said, "We are financially capable of doing this ourselves. This is not a pipe dream."
He added about his company, "Whenever we have started a development, we have been successful and finished it."
Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards, who introduced Holwerda, said in a written statement, "This is the real deal. The people of St. Croix are tired of empty promises. These developers have the land, they have the money and all they need now is the support of the island's residents. This development will encourage other developers and I believe the best is still yet to come for St. Croix."
The new development is to be located on the island's north shore, at Annaly Bay, just west of the Carambola Beach Resort.
According to Holwerda, the development will occur in phases over a 10-to-15-year period and will include three distinctly different hotels, residential villages, estate homes and villa residences spread over 1,327 acres, 70 percent of which will remain natural open space.
Although the permitting process has not yet begun, Holwerda said he believes the Throgmartin Company, a family-owned Florida-based entity, can break ground within 18 months.
Richards said the project would add a thousand hotel rooms to St. Croix, doubling its present number and raising the number of hotel rooms to pre-Hurricane Hugo levels.
Richards emphasized that no public money was going to be used for the development. However, he added, "This is a public/private partnership in which the government will ensure that the necessary infrastructure for this project is in place, such as repairing and extending the Scenic Drive."
The 12-mile long Scenic Drive from Salt River to Hamm's Bluff has been in disrepair and residents have avoided it for years.
Vargrave said he was "bullish and confident" that funds to repair that road and facilitate this project will be forthcoming.
George Phillips, commissioner of Public Works, said he believed that about a million dollars would soon be forthcoming so preliminary design work for the reconstruction of the road can begin in March. He said the design would keep the "integrity of this being a scenic route."
The government has a 60-foot right of way for the road. Phillips said that 30 feet would be used for a two-lane highway and the remainder would be used for bike and equestrian trails.
Richards said "This will be a unique opportunity for locals as well as visitors to drive through previously uncharted territory and witness the natural and exotic beauty of the island."
According to Holwerda, the development would mean about 800 temporary construction jobs and nearly 1,500 permanent jobs for St. Croix.
Both Holwerda and Richards emphasized that the property was already zoned for development. Holwerda said his company finalized the purchase of 2,300 acres from Jake Jacobus on Nov. 15.
Three hotels are proposed for the development one large casino and hotel. The other two are a bungalow hotel and beach club with about 350 rooms and a boutique hotel or eco lodge with 80 to 100 rooms.
However, the hotels are just part of the proposed project. The project also is to include estate homes and villas, an associates' village of multifamily housing surrounded by a nature preserve and a hilltop residential village.
Attorney Kevin Rames, who is a managing partner in the proposed William and Punch development on the west side of the island, said after the press conference that he thought the proposed development would be good for St. Croix. He said that development would probably be going through the permiting process at the same time as William and Punch.
He added, "We wish them success and hear that they wish us success too." William and Punch, a planned casino with a 400-room hotel, received a recent boost when the owners of a successful Connecticut casino said they planned to invest in it. (See Premier Casino Operator Interested in St. Croix Project.)
Sens. Juan Figueroa-Serville and Neville James also attended the conference. Richards gave James credit for helping with much of the early work in attracting these developers to St. Croix.
Figueroa-Serville said he did not want to see St. Croix become like St. Thomas, but he had little fear of that happening. He said he felt that St. Croix could hold three or four more resorts without adversely affecting the environment.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull made opening remarks in the Government House ballroom, which was filled to capacity with the press and interested persons. Turnbull praised Richards for his work in making the development a possibility.
Holwerda said, "We have planned a world-class resort and residential community designed in communion with nature and respectful of the cultural and historical fabric of St. Croix."
Also planned as part of the development are an equestrian center, a golf academy and a nine-hole, par-3 golf course.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.