At other hotels, the push to rebuild was almost immediate. The Westin St. John Resort Villas, one of the few other resorts on St. John, employed staff to help with the cleanup, which took 16 months. The resort fully reopened to guests last February.
At first, Caneel employees — who made up seven percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ total employment in the hotel and restaurant sector, “putting Caneel on par with Walmart in terms of the number of jobs created in a state by a single employer,” according to a Congressional white paper — expected they would be similarly involved in their resort’s clean up, as they had with previous storms.
But this time, hundreds of workers found themselves unemployed. Unionized employees, some who had worked on the resort for decades, received termination letters by mail.
“The whole community is hurting,” said Theresa Germain, a housekeeper who retired months before the storms and worked on the resort about 35 years.
But no rebuilding began.
CBI Acquisitions, a limited liability company based in Connecticut and created to purchase the resort, has the rights for land use and occupancy until 2023. Gary Engle, the resort’s principal owner, has refused to rebuild without an extension of those rights, saying it is not worth the investment of about $100 million to rebuild most units and install new electrical wiring and plumbing, among other tasks.
“Lack of clarity is the major problem with the resort right now,” Mr. Engle said in an interview. “Because without fixing the uncertainty, there’s no money that’s going to be invested in this property.”
The destroyed resort is an inescapable sight on such a small island. Only the main entrance has been repaired. For $20, visitors can take a golf cart ride from there to Honeymoon Beach, the only beach out of seven associated with the resort that has reopened.