After 46 years of continuous operation of the facilities at Cinnamon and Trunk bays, Caneel Bay Resort is handing over the keys to a new concession operator as of October 1.
Redwood Parks Company has been selected by the National Parks Service to operate services — lodging, camping, food and beverage, retail and equipment rental — at the two popular sites within the Virgin Islands National Park.
The process for selecting a concessionaire began in 2011, according to Elba Richardson, Concession Management Specialist with the Virgin Islands National Park. The request for bids was made public on April 7, 2015, and bidding closed on July 30, 2015.
During the next 11 months, the National Park Service convened an “interdisciplinary team” with expertise in assets management and hospitality to review the bids, and “The one that was most responsive was recommended,” Richardson said.
To maintain fairness, VINP staff was excluded from the process.
Caneel Bay Resort originally secured a 20-year contract to operate the campground at Cinnamon Bay and the facilities at Trunk Bay in 1970. When that contract expired in 1990, it was renewed on a year-by-year basis while the National Park Service implemented its Concessions Management Improvement Act and dealt with a backlog of concession contracts within the park system.
Patrick Kidd, spokesperson for Caneel Bay Resort, denied rumors that Caneel was no longer interested in managing the concessions at Cinnamon and Trunk.
“We absolutely put in a bid and were very keen [on continuing],” Kidd said. “We put together what we thought was an impactful packet. It was Laurance Rockefeller’s vision to make the park accessible to people with varying income levels, whether it’s Caneel or Cinnamon.”
Caneel Bay, the resort established by Rockefeller when he donated land to create the park in 1956, has been famous for its simple but luxurious elegance. The resort property includes more than 200 acres and offers stunning views of seven north shore beaches. Room rates currently range from about $450 to $650 a night.
The campground at Cinnamon Bay offers accommodations in bare sites, tents and concrete cottages ranging from $37 to $105 a night. Although its affordability has made it popular, campground guests have complained about the lack of improvements to the facilities over the years and the uneven quality of the food served in the campground’s restaurant.
Kidd said that Caneel Bay had “invested considerable sums in maintaining the facilities at Trunk and Cinnamon but the year-by-year contract extensions prevented them from making “substantial capital investment.”
The contract awarded to Redwood Parks Company is for 15 years.
“The new contract will require some enhancements to the facilities and will include construction of new eco-tents at Cinnamon Bay and a new food and beverage facility and retail outlet at Trunk Bay Beach,” according to a June 28, 2016 press release from National Park Service.
Richardson could not supply details about what changes are in store for the facilities at Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay because the final contract has not yet been signed. Redwood Parks Company has 30 days to review the final contract, and the U.S. Congress has 60 days to weigh in on the deal before the director of the Southeast Region, Stan Austin, finalizes it.
Richardson said she expects the final reviews to go smoothly and has not heard of a situation where Congress denied a recommendation to approve a selected major concession operator.
The president of Redwood Park Company, Brian Stewart, is traveling in Australia as we go to press; he promised to provide St. John Tradewinds with further details upon his return.
“Redwood Parks Company operates adventure and resort destinations to municipalities, state parks, national parks, and tribal nations,” Stewart said in the press release. “In the U.S. Virgin Islands, we’ll look to the Park Service, local residents and current employees for guidance on how to be a good steward and member of the community. Cinnamon Bay and Trunk Bay are magnificent destinations that will benefit tremendously from new facilities and improved services.”
While facilities at Trunk Bay remain open throughout the year, the campground at Cinnamon traditionally shuts down for hurricane season. Kidd said the Cinnamon Bay Campground will close at the end of August.
The staff at Cinnamon Bay has continued to process reservations for the upcoming season, according to an employee.
“We are expecting to be opening around October 1 for the new season, but perhaps not with all the improvement projects completed,” said Richardson.