A luxury resort on the hillside of Maho Bay could be a reality in the future.
St. John could be welcoming another luxury resort to its shores. Or 25 new sprawling villas could be dotting a hillside on the North Shore in the next few years.
Those are just two possibilities for what could replace Maho Bay Campground (see side bar on this page), when the eco-resort’s lease expires in July 2012.
Although the exact future of the campground — and the 13.8 protected acres on the North Shore it sits upon — remains undetermined, officials are not taking reservations after June 2012, setting up this next high season to be Maho’s last one.
The campground, which opened in 1976, is nestled on 13.8 privately owned acres on the island’s North Shore and includes a sandy beach with 850 feet of shoreline. The campground consists of mostly low-impact wooden structures, walkways and winding stairways, soft-sided tents, a dining and yoga pavilions and a popular arts program.
Maho Bay Camps latest online newsletter, issued last week, included a letter from owner Stanley Selengut advising of the campground’s impending closure.
“I am sorry to report that negotiations to extend our 37-year lease have been so far unsuccessful,” Selengut wrote. “Unless the landowners decide otherwise, Maho will close before July 31, 2012.”
While the date of Maho’s lease ending has been known for years, many visitors and residents hoped a land conservation would be able to purchase the property and continue leasing to the campground.
With a price tag of $23 million, however, a buyer for the property has not been found.
Trust for Public Land, which acquired more than 400 acres nearby for protection last year, was leading the drive to purchase the land. At this time, however, the non-profit conservation organization is no longer in negotiations with the land owners, explained Maho Camps vice president Adrian Davis.
“Trust for Public Land is no longer in negotiations with the land owners,” said Davis. “Hopefully someone will come out and purchase the land and lease it to Maho Bay Camps, but that will not be Trust for Public Land at this time.”
Funds collected by TPL for Maho Bay Camps were used to begin negotiation, Davis added.
“Anyone who donated money to TPL has gotten a letter about the end of negotiations,” said Davis. “The money they donated was for the beginning of negotiations and appraisals. It was never promised that they would purchase it or that people would get their money back if they did not purchase it.”
While there are several possibilities for Maho to continue operations in its current capacity, right now resort officials are viewing its next season as the last. Maho’s policy is to accept reservations one year in advance, a policy which is ending as of June 1, according to the resort’s vice president.
“We have a lease that currently ends at the end of July 2012,” Davis said. “We are not taking reservations for any time after June 2012.”
One possibility for Maho to continue is if the land owners extend the lease an extra year, Davis explained.
“The land owners have the right to extend the lease one year to July 2013, but they do not have to let us know until April 30, 2012,” he said. “On April 30, they can say, ‘yes’ and we have to operate or they can say, ‘no’ and we have 90 days to close.”
“We are operating under the assumption that our lease ends next July and this will be our last operational season unless at the last minute they tell us we’ll be open,” he said. “Then we’ll find some way to get through the season. With only 90 days notice, we’re going to be hard-pressed to get the resort where it needs to be and get people here to work.”
Selengut also addressed the lease extension issue, and the difficulty posed by a last minute decision, in his letter.
“The land has been on the market for two years with a current asking price of $23 million,” Selengut wrote. “Should it fail to sell by April of next year, we could still receive a temporary reprieve to operate through the 2013-winter season. Yet, with only a few months notice, one can imagine how difficult it will be for our guests to plan their vacation.”
“For example, I can no longer take bookings one year in advance,” the Maho Camps owner wrote. “Currently, reservations are limited to this coming season only.”
The resort’s popular trash to treasure art department, which includes recycled glass blowing and woven bags from recycled linens, will likely not be transferred to Selengut’s Estate Concordia property, Davis explained.
“We are doing our best to find someone who would be willing to the take the art program at their facility and we would help set that up,” he said. “We would like to put the art center at Concordia, but with only 42 units, there is not enough to support the program. There are 112 rentals at Maho and only 42 at Concordia, so we might not be able to have all the programs.”
“It’s just not a large enough property, although we have been trying to expand it,” said Davis.
As soon as Selengut’s letter hit the internet, Davis started to get inundated with calls from people asking what they could do to save Maho, he explained.
“A lot of people are asking what happened to Trust for Public Land and what they can do to help,” said the Maho Camps vice president. “Right now I don’t have an answer for anyone. They can try to find a land trust or someone with that kind of money interested in buying the land and continue leasing it to us.”
“Then we could make donations to offset the purchase price,” said Davis.
The other option to save Maho’s future is to get the one-year extension, giving officials extra time to find a buyer willing to continue the campground’s lease, Davis added.
“What we would like to see is to get the extra year and find out sooner rather than later so we’ll have more time and people will have more time to find a land conservation organization or a buyer,” he said. “I would hate to see another major large development go up in the place of Maho.”
“It’s a sad day, especially that do not know what do to,” said Davis. “We always knew there was an end to the lease, but no one really believed it would come.”
The campground’s future is unknown, but its success in setting the standard for eco-conscious travel is certain.
“Whatever happens, I am proud that during the past 35 years Maho has gained a world-wide reputation as one of the first and leading eco-resorts,” Selengut wrote. “Those of you who have repeatedly chosen Maho as your prime vacation site will be as sad as I am that this great run ends.”
“Flexible Zoning” Means Maho Bay Could Be Home To Resort or Villas, or Both
With Maho Bay Campground’s lease set to expire on July 31, 2012, a rare 13.8 parcel of land on the pristine North Shore of St. John is on the market.
The land is surrounded by V.I. National Park and includes 850 feet of sandy white shoreline in addition to incredible views. Offered by Islandia Real Estate, the land is listed as Estate Abraham’s Fancy, but is billed as Estate Maho Bay on the company’s website.
The asking price is $23 million and the possibilities for the property are many, according to www.islandiarealestate.com.
“One of the last remaining privately owned beach front properties on St. John’s North Shore is offered for sale,” according to the site. “This privately owned north shore beachfront property offers flexible zoning for any number of uses or a combination thereof; exclusive family estate holding, private planned residential community, ultimate upscale beachfront resort.”
With almost 14 acres, Estate Maho Bay would make the “ultimate” in private family compounds, according to the website.
“With unsurpassed views, complete privacy and easy access, Maho Bay would make the perfect location for a family compound nestled in the natural beauty of the Caribbean,” according to www.islandiarealestate.com.
The site also claims Maho’s location as “well-suited for a luxury resort development.”
“The property’s most valuable asset is its 850-foot shoreline, including a crescent shaped beach of powdery white sand,” according to the website. “There are only two existing beachfront resorts on St. John. The Westin Resort and Villas on the island’s southshore with its man-made beach on Great Cruz Bay, and the Caneel Bay Resort.”
“Maho Bay’s natural beachfront is on par with Caneel’s famed white beaches,” according to www.islandiarealestate.com.
The property could also be divided into either 13 one acre-plus parcels for residences or 25 half-acre-plus sites, according to the site.
“The combination of resort and private residences exist, making this property truly unique and open to many development possibilities,” according to www.islandiarealestate.com.
For more information call Islandia at 776-6666.