By Alexander Britell
The Frenchman’s Reef & Morning Star Beach Resort in St Thomas, which was badly damaged during last year’s hurricanes, will reopen.
The 502-room property, the largest hotel in St Thomas, is likely to open in 2020, according to DiamondRock Hospitality, the REIT that has owned the property since 2005.
DiamondRock vice president Bill Tennis confirmed the hotel would reopen in the first quarter of 2020, a reopening that will include new hurricane proofing, an expansion of the pools and public spaces and an upgrade of the Morning Star portion of the property to a “premium” resort.
“When completed this will be a very significant investment by DiamondRock in the Territory,” Tennis said.
The property had been operating under the Marriott brand; it’s not clear if the brand will return when the hotel reopens.
The property had been a fulcrum of St Thomas’ tourism industry, with around 270,000 guests per year and an economic contribution of $100 million each year.
“Its importance to our economy cannot be overemphasized,” said US Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp. “Accordingly, my Administration has worked with the owners of Frenchman’s Reef to craft a public-private partnership that will allow the resort to rebuild, renovate, and return to operations better than before.”
That will include legislation giving resorts, including the Frenchman’s Reef, the ability to impose an Economic Recovery Fee on their own facilities to raise money to rebuild or expand.
Mapp has sent a bill to the USVI Senate for legislation that would let hotels raise their overnight occupancy taxes up to 20 percent, with anything above the mandated 12.5 percent returned to the property to fund and recoup building costs.
Mapp also said the Frenchman’s Reef would be equipped to serve as a shelter in the event of future weather events.
“Large hotels like Frenchman’s Reef are excellent candidates for emergency shelters, because they have robust backup power generation, wastewater treatment, and other services that are critical in protecting people during storms,” Mapp said.