DiamondRock Hospitality representatives presented requests for more government benefits to rebuild and renovate the shuttered Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriot Beach Resort during a hearing held by the Virgin Islands Economic Development Commission Tuesday.
The hearing was held via video conference between St. Croix and St. Thomas. Both board members and the applicants met at the Nisky Shopping Center in St. Thomas while staff members from the Economic Authority, applicants in separate matters and members of the media looked on from St. Croix at the William D. Roebuck Industrial Park.
Frenchman’s Reef closed its doors following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. DiamondRock was approved for 15 years worth of EDC benefits back in 2014 but are asking for an extension of those benefits now so that there’s sufficient time and resources to renovate and open its doors again.
To improve the hotel’s resiliency and environmental impact, the renovation will include energy-efficient turbines to replace old generators, a waste water treatment plant and a new reverse osmosis plant, representatives said.
The cost to reopen the shuttered doors, according to DiamondRock Representative Marjorie Roberts, is an estimated 170 million or more. She said DiamondRock was willing to invest that amount and help boost the economy.
The goal, representatives said, is to reopen the resort by December 2019 in time for the high season of 2020.
Not only is DiamondRock asking for a 20-year extension of their benefits but also for an increase from a 10 percent haircut to the full amount of benefits allowed under EDC law.
Ms. Roberts said the company planned to honor its commitment to employ a minimum 450 full-time workers. The company also plans to give a minimum of $90,000 in charitable donations annually, she said.
Members of the board offered words of encouragement and reminders of how important the hotel was to the tourism industry. Board Chair Jose Penn called the effort “a great testament to your commitment”. He suggested that DiamondRock confer with the appropriate government partners and cautioned that, presently, there are problems getting materials into the territory.
The board also heard a request from Tecoma Asset Management, an investment management company, to suspend benefits for a two-year period extending from Jan. of this year to Dec. of 2019.
According to Tecoma Representative Greg Ferguson, the company’s principle was never a V.I. resident, which wasn’t a problem until the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Donald Trump in December of 2017 made it economically impossible for a resident from the mainland to invest in a V.I. company.
Board members informed Mr. Ferguson that once they had verified that all charitable contributions were up-to-date, they could move forward with the request.
Decisions were not made on any application as the objective of the hearing was solely discussion.
Before members of the media and the public were allowed into the hearing, the VIEDC had met privately in executive session to discuss matters related to DiamondRock. They also decided that $94,370 should go into the “Industrial Promotional Fund” no more than 30 days after the board’s decision.
Feature Image: Aerial shot of the Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Marriott Beach Resort in St. Thomas, following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. (Ernice Gilbert, VIC)