Home News Local news Carambola Resort Plans Embrace Local Heritage and Culture, Developers Say

Carambola Resort Plans Embrace Local Heritage and Culture, Developers Say

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Jan. 15, 2007 — Plans to bring Carambola Beach Resort under the Marriott umbrella and showcase the island's cultural activities represent a win-win situation for St. Croix, says an attorney involved with the $120 million overhaul.
"We started by building some very important building blocks and, for the first time, I've seen developers understanding the values — what the local community has to offer — in developing a tourism product," said David Nissman, attorney for John and Brandie Puls, two of the partners of JS Carambola, the resort's new owners.
Nissman, a former U.S. Attorney, said one of the reasons he left office was "to help grow St. Croix in a direction that would be inclusive of those of us who live here." The Puls took a guided hike by Ay-Ay Tours and participated in other activities to experience some of the cultural tourism that could benefit the resort, Nissman said.
The company announced plans last week to brand the resort under Marriott International and include cultural activities and groups as part of the entertainment. It would invest a total of $120 million to refurbish existing rooms and build environmentally sound villas as a lure to travelers interested in nature and heritage tourism.
About $100 million would go toward the construction of 50 "green-building design" villas, south of the main hotel. "Sweet Bottom Estates" would cater to high-end travelers, and guests would be allowed golfing privileges at the nearby Robert Trent Jones-designed Carambola Golf Course.
The other $20 million would go to major renovations of the 151-room resort, public spaces, landscaping and restaurants, now about halfway through completion. Forty-eight rooms were refurbished with marble floors, granite counter tops in bathrooms and kitchenettes. The company also added dishwashers, full-sized refrigerators, microwaves and flat-screen plasma televisions. Plans are also underway for a full-service spa, scheduled to open Feb. 1, among the amenities.
The villas were designed by St. Croix-based Sustainable Systems and Design International after JS Carambola hired local environmentalists and scientists to study the best use for the land. Each of the 50 villas will feature solar-powered electricity, while roads will be accessible only by golf carts to reduce emissions and noise pollution. This will add another 100 guest rooms, bringing the total to 251. Employee numbers will grow from 150 to about 200.
The company also plans to hire Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism (CHANT), of which Nissman was a board member, to run a reception center and cultural pavilion. It will serve as a centerpiece for heritage and nature tourism and a performance amphitheater. CHANT was formed in 2003 by a group of locals concerned with preserving the island's rich culture and history.
"We local people don't have $20 or $40 million to buy hotels, but we have a lot to offer, and we can hook up with developers that understand the values of having great opportunities for their guests," Nissman explained. "Sharing culture and nature is such a wonderful thing to do for both the people sharing it and the people that are watching it. It unites us in ways that we would not otherwise be united, and special friendships are developed that way."
The announcement Friday came on the heels of one a day earlier by Connecticut-based businessman Curtis Robinson at the Buccaneer Hotel, who said he had completed the purchase of 624 acres of land on the island's south shore. Robinson plans to build an initial 300-room facility, Robin Bay Resort, with amenities to include an 18-hole golf course, water park and conference center. Lt. Gov. Gregory R. Francis attended that announcement.
On Friday, Francis was joined by Gov. John deJongh Jr. and Tourism Commissioner-designee Beverly Nicholson for JS Carambola's announcement. About 50 invited guests from both the public and private sector were on hand when Nissman introduced the partners — the Puls, along with Harry Vaughn and Michael O'Malley.
This is their first venture in the hotel industry, according to Nissman. Vaughn has worked as a food vendor, and claims the V.I. Bureau of Corrections as one of his main clients. He also has experience in the horse-racing industry. The Puls, who are from Florida, have worked in the medical-insurance business, while O'Malley worked previously in the casino industry.
JS Carambola is the same company that sought to put the V.I. government in the hotel business some three years ago, Nissman acknowledged. That agreement, made with the Turnbull Administration, called on JS Carambola to invest $41 million in Carambola Resort and give the V.I. government 25 percent interest in it. The deal also included a $1 investment return for a casino license. At the time, Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said the move would mean "immediate economic stimulation for St. Croix, and a much-needed expansion of hotel-room capacity."
A bill to amend the Casino and Resort Act of 1995, paving the way for Carambola Resort to qualify automatically for a casino license, was killed by the Legislature days after Richards' comments. In December 2003, senators voted to remove the item from the agenda after hearing from Eileen Petersen, Casino Control Commission chairwoman, who spoke against granting a license automatically without the strict investigative process imposed on other companies. At the time, Joseph Sinicrope, identified as JS Carambola's managing partner, said the company needed the casino license to obtain financing for the project. Nissman confirmed this week that Sinicrope is still with the company, but not as managing partner.
"He still maintains a partnership interest in the hotel," Nissman said.
The branding of Carambola Beach Resort under Marriott International means that St. Croix is now on the A-list of hotels to attract guests via a worldwide and world-class reservation system, developers say.
"This is a tremendous opportunity for St. Croix," said Government House Spokesman Jean Greaux following the announcement Friday. "The Marriott International brand gives the opportunity for exposure on the Marriott Reservation system worldwide."
The potential for increased visitors to the island must come with increased airline activity, Greaux said. Gov. DeJongh has already tapped the Tourism Office as well as the V.I. Port Authority to work aggressively on attracting more flights to the island, he said.
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