How A Basket Case Pension Fund Got A Marriott Renaissance Deflagged In St. Croix

The Carambola Beach Resort St. Croix is a sad tale. Marriott has 30 brands, but this hotel is an unbranded Marriott. You see, it used to be a Renaissance. It’s fallen into such disrepair that they don’t show that name any longer.

Marriott hasn’t given up on the property, though, and are dangling out hope that it will one day become habitable up to brand standards and once again part of the Renaissance brand.

How this happened is fascinating because it’s a tale of incompetence and, in my opinion, likely corruption on the part of the government employee pension fund of the US Virgin Islands. This story is insane.

The public pension gave the resort $15 million during the Great Recession to cover the property’s mortgage and make renovations. According to the Virgin Islands Inspector General the loan was illegal but the pension did it anyway arguing that it fell under a “special situation” catch-all that allowed them to ignore legal guidance on stewarding pension funds.

  • $8.2 million to cover existing bank loans as well as liens against the property and judgments
  • $6.8 million for renovations to meet Renaissance conversion standards

The property went into default two years later, but instead of the pension fund taking possession of the hotel they “cut the interest rate from 10.5 percent to 6.3 percent” yet this didn’t prevent further defaults. The pension took over the property in mid-2012. It found itself on the hook for over $1 million in unpaid hotel taxes, and covering “extra disbursements [which] totaled $12 million.”

It was almost as though the hotel was a money laundering operation, considering:

• A $1.2 million payment in 2010 for a fire detection and sprinkler system that did not work.

• $83,626 in payments to the hotel owner’s three other business operations.

• Payments for goods that were not what the businesses supplied. Those included an electronics shop that was paid for supplying “towels.” In addition, a Florida landscaper who was paid $8,195 for a “custom waterfall” that had never shown up on the Carambola property.

The Inspector General also note that unfortunately his forensic audit had to be limited in scope because:

• There were no documents for 23 wire transfers totaling almost $7.6 million…

• There was no documentation in accounting journal entries relating to GERS’ wire transfers from Dec. 10, 2012, to Aug. 26, 2013.

The hotel was sold in 2019 and the pension fund claimed to have made a profit because they foreclosed on a $15 million loan, sold the asset for $10 million (a big loss, after 10 years!), but pocketed $17.1 million in insurance payments due to hurricanes. The resort didn’t do much to restore the property, and guest experiences went south.

The most recent review I found on Tripadvisor offered,

This could be a great property, but it is need of a serious renovation. I was surprised that they could maintain the “Marriott” brand given the issues that we encountered. It’s clear that they have never really recovered from the hurricanes of 2017/18 followed up by the challenges of COVID. The rooms look nothing like the pictures on the website, they are dark and not well lit. It’s hard to know where to start as everything is just plain “dated”, as in circa 2001 dated. EVERYTHING needs to be redone.

The General Manager (or someone writing on her behalf) acknowledged the issues and offered that they are “working on the renovation process” – as opposed to being in the process of renovating – and ideally that would finish next year so you know that it won’t.

The ‘deflagged’ Marriott situation is an odd one. It’s still part of Marriott but not part of Renaissance. And since many elite benefits are tied to – and vary by – brand I asked what this means. According to a Marriott spokesperson,

The hotel is undergoing renovations and will be branded under Renaissance again when it is completed. In the interim, Marriott Bonvoy members with elite status will receive benefits in accordance with the Renaissance brand.

Now, to be fair, the hotel is on St. Croix and that’s not where you go if you’re looking for an upscale hotel experience. And in theory new ownership will invest in the property and it will once again be ‘branded’. In the meantime, Bonvoy Platinums do have to be offered the omelette station as an elite benefit even though there’s no defined breakfast benefits for Marriott participating properties that aren’t a part of any Marriott brand.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “Now, to be fair, the hotel is on St. Croix and that’s not where you go if you’re looking for an upscale hotel experience.”

    This is as much a stupid comment as the GM that left all this in disrepair.

    So Lanai should not have upscale properties either, because what? Because Gary Leff claimed so?

    Was hanging around their property 2 weeks ago and there is no reason for St Croix not to have one well managed upscale experience, especially given the location and potential of the place.

    It is however obvious that something wrong is happening with the management. As quite a symptomatic example will show: someone put the extra effort to put little flag ribbon over a sea-turtle nest on the Carambola beach (when? how long ago? in 2001?)

    And yet, upper maintenance managers (those with carts) happily drive over the sea-turtle nest with their buggy. Is this someone who does not care and he needs to be shown the door? Is this because the flags have always been there and should have been removed? If so, why isn’t the guy removing them? Takes 10s max…

  2. “Now, to be fair, the hotel is on St. Croix and that’s not where you go if you’re looking for an upscale hotel experience.”

    I didn’t know this; is it just a more industrial island than others? Or is this sarcasm?

  3. Went here in September on a last minute trip to snorkel Buck Island (which is great btw). Thought the terrible reviews may have been exaggerating the conditions, but they were spot on. This place is a dump. The rooms were beyond disgusting (hair in drains, bugs on beds, water leaks, etc). Front desk staff said manager would call us. After 4 hours of not hearing anything, bad service at restaurant, and it being 9pm at night, we immediately checked out and booked place on Christiansted.

    @Alan – There are no really upscale hotels and not much to see other than Buck Island. Island did have an oil refinery but its been shuttered.

  4. Yes, the USVI political scene is rife with subtle and some not so subtle corruption. This one seems to deserve an outside investigation but not sure how much input the Justice Department has in the territories. Not my area. .

    The property has a much longer history than most are aware. It was originally developed as a Rock Resort along with the 18 hole Robert Trent Jones golf course that is nearby. When they went on a Caribbean shopping spree, the Rockefeller brothers bought St. John and 4500 acres on St. Croix. They agreed to preserve the great majority of St. John and develop St. Croix. After this hotel and golf course were built, brother Wintrop died, Laurance lost interest in St. Croix and the property stopped development. There are 2500 acres remaining that were planned to be developed before Hugo wiped out the island and everybody went to St. Thomas. St. Croix has been the red headed step child every since. Site planned by EDSA, second golf course already routed by Rees Jones, zoned for lots of hotels and second homes along with commercial components. Much more like Hawaii than most classic caribbean properties with elevation changes from sea level to 700′ along Scenic Road.

    Back to this property, great rooms, location etc, just needs a lot of love and proper management. large rooms with balconies within feet of the ocean

    @Alan, St. Croix is what I call the red headed step child of the Caribbean, great food, good people, 10k foot runway, great diving, some nice beaches, US territory (no passport), not a single flagged hotel on the island. Studied it for a lot of years, it seems that critical mass is the biggest challenge. If you want to visit, I highly recommend the Buccaneer for your first visit. Former Governors mansion family owned for generations, well run

  5. @bonvoyedagain

    luminescnet kayak tours in the bay
    dive the walls along the north shore
    night dive the pier
    sandy point national seashore
    tantan tours to the wading pools at Annaly Bay
    Bucanneer Hotel breakfast – stay there next time
    some very good restaurants but I prefer duggans fresh lobster
    buck island
    point udall. a little hiking can get you to some isolated beaches

    there are lots of good things to do depending on what you like to, or are capable of, doing. lot of history on St Croix too.

  6. We enjoyed our stay back in 2012. Not well managed. Wonderful room. Steps to a beautiful, clean beach. Absolutely chaotic food service, so we bought groceries and had meals in room. We WANT to go back and bring fiends…when it is well-managed.

  7. I stay they back in march of 2021 the hotel need a lot of love but the hotel has no feel of a Marriott’s hotel I was they in 1997 it look better back then it a shame the hold island needs love

  8. Stayed there in 2020 and it was awful in every way. They had done the very least to get the place reopened after the 2017 hurricane. I instead found an amazing place in Frederiksted, Cottages by the Sea. They are like studio apartments so you have a full kitchen and are right on the beach.

  9. “Now, to be fair, the hotel is on St. Croix and that’s not where you go if you’re looking for an upscale hotel experience.”

    Gary that’s extremely insulting. What exactly are you saying about St. Croix?

    And by the way St. Croix had a lot more than just Buck Island to offer – unbelievable and quite frankly hysterical!

    Joe, you and the staff at tourism need to up your game about St. Croix so we don’t have bloggers making these incendiary comments about St. Croix especially on all there is to offer for us who live there and for those who come to visit us.

  10. “Now, to be fair, the hotel is on St. Croix and that’s not where you go if you’re looking for an upscale hotel experience.”

    You clearly have no clue what you are talking about. There are plenty of things to do on St. Croix! At one time there were multiple high end properties on the island. Unfortunately due to natural disasters and economic road blocks…some things have fallen through the cracks with the accommodations.
    Despite all that, St. Croix has slowly and steadily built back up its infrastructure and tourism product. Things dont happen in a vacuum and takes time to show improvement.

    Please do not denigrate my hometown with you uptight blog assessment. It seems to me that the onus for the repairs and making the experience better would fall to the multi-billion dollar Marriott corporation. As usual tho, you as an outsider came in and think you know all there is to know about the island and its economy…all from what a 5-7 day visit. Next time do some more research!

  11. The resort has such a mixed history…
    Built as.a Rock Resort, it lost money from the outset due to the enormous fixed infrastructure costs of the massive grounds, the beach that requires “nourishment” frequently, and the cost of a stand alone water and wastewater system, since it’s far from municipal services. To be profitable, the resort needs another 100 rooms, which has always been a problem to add for a long list of reasons.
    It’s a gorgeous property, very difficult and expensive to maintain, and the cost and quality of hotel-related labor on St Croix is a problem due to a list of cultural, racial and social issues. It’s a very complicated “Fix” to cure the problems at Carambola.

  12. Carambola is so very remote from everything and if they were fully back they way they used to be pre 2017 hurricane it would be great. But sadly they are not. You used to be able to rent the former Rockefeller beach home that was (is?) behind the villas. You must rent a car when staying there as taxis here don’t run like in the States, are cash only, and quite expensive. As far as the dig about St Croix, no, it’s not lux or St Barth’s but it is relaxed, non assuming, and wide open non-developed with the most beautiful clear water beaches you will see. Buccaneer resort is lovely, Cottages by the sea quaint on the beach, Divi Resort motel type layout on the beach getting just back up to speed after a hurricane renovation. Sandcastles on the Beach. St Croix can be magical. You need to take a moment when here, take a breath, relax, enjoy the natural beauty and not expect a “stateside” experience.

  13. Besides the incorrect comment about there not being an upscale hotel on St Croix, this sounds like it was written by someone who spends their time at all inclusive resorts and rarely ventures out into the “wilds” without a tour bus.

    St Croix has much to offer and also has a thriving hotel and AirBnB / VRBO community. As far as upscale there is The Buccaneer, Divi (about to be all inclusive) and boutique hotels like The Fred, Sandcastles, Grapetree Bay, and under renovation King Christian and Hotel on the Cay.

  14. What an insult to St Croix. We have been there four or five times, always stay at the buccaneer which is nicer than most of the hotels we’ve stayed at in the US and europe, and there are so many things to do that we never have enough time to get everything done!!

  15. I love St Croix and Puerto Rico…. away from typical resorts. This property is on the North Shore. It’s in the perfect location with potential, but like PR, the USVI is corrupt AF. There are better choices for independent accommodations. Stay at Rust Op Twist. Beautiful views. So much good food and many good people. Be prepared for minor inconveniences, as it is an island. Their government needs help, but look at our mess.

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