Club Orient ‘absolutely intends’ to rebuild, says managing director

MARIGOT–Club Orient Resort in the short term will aim to have thirty units rebuilt by this November 2018 and another eighteen ready by April 2019 for forty-eight units, Managing Director of Orient Beach Club (OBC) Stephen Payne has disclosed.

The naturist resort was completely destroyed during Hurricane Irma, however, this week owners are gathering in Orlando, Florida, to decide on its future and clean-up of the property is ongoing.

Currently the resort is divided into separate management entities, OBC and co-proprietors (COPRO), the home owner’s association. Co-proprietors own approximately 100 out of 140 rental units as investments and their board makes the decisions and controls the grounds.

“Some of the studio units only have foundations left which will need more repair work,” Payne explained. “There are some units on the water front which command high rental prices that we are having issues over whether to rebuild or not rebuild with but the Collectivité is being extremely helpful to us on that.

“The restaurant and amenity buildings could take as much as two years to be rebuilt. If Club Orient could come back to 100 per cent it could take as much as two years. To replace the restaurant, we will be using the Perch Lite Bar which is already operating. That was always intended to be temporary. For 30 units that will be lunch only. Obviously, you can’t support a lunch and dinner restaurant with only 30 units.

“The front office we want to get up and running as quickly as possible. As for the facilities you won’t see the tennis court in operation yet, or the massage room. It will all be step-by-step. The meetings are going on right now in Orlando. Because the co-proprietors haven’t collected yet on the total insurance payout, they are asking all the owners to write substantial cheques to rebuild their units.

“Co proprietors are awaiting 5-million euros although they need 15-million euros.So, there’s a big difference there to cover. I have to say that we have been receiving a number of emails from people who are willing to buy units, even in the state that they are in.”

That said, Payne indicated the owners are very motivated and guests have contributed to rebuilding funds and employee welfare.

“We raised almost US $170,000 from a Go Fund Me page almost immediately and 100 per cent of that money went to the employees. I think it was distributed in November 2017. We have 89 employees but in season we go up to 130. People forget Club Orient has always been self-sufficient. We make our own electricity, water and dispose of waste water. We had a metal shop, woodwork shop and at one point even made our own furniture. Because in the beginning there was nothing here. We had to be self- sufficient.

“We are renting chairs and umbrellas on the beach. There’s a massage girl there under a palapa and there’s a souvenir stand. Randy is running the Perch Lite Bar with a generator and he has to bring the food and ice down every day. The guys there are doing a great job.”

Payne said looting of the resort was appalling, “worse than Irma even”, but once rebuilding starts security will be back in place.

“The absolute intent of the owners is to rebuild. 75 per cent of owners have signed a “pouvoir” (authorization) to assign insurance proceeds due to them to go to the rebuilding fund. It doesn’t mean the other 25 per cent disagreed. It’s just that the 75 per cent signed before the meeting.”

Looking to the future, expansion of the resort has been discussed with the Collectivité and plans presented that include additional multi-level buildings and a swimming pool that would take capacity to over 200 rooms.

“So, with the new building regulations and the need for safe rooms and if we are unable to rebuild in some areas, a project like this makes sense,” Payne asserts. “We can repair for now but if they come and tell you to tear it down. What’s the point? We need every one of those 140 rooms.

“The Collectivité can reap the tax benefits, lease us the land and we employ St. Martiners at up to double the rate we employ now. It’s a great solution. We are close to agreeing terms with the Collectivité. We have to get rooms up because with the State unemployment benefit (chomage) ending on October 31, 2018, you either go back to firing everyone at a cost of 2-million euros or you go out of business. It’s not a good scenario. Our payroll used to run at over a quarter of a million euros every month. Imagine that with no revenue coming in.

“Club Orient has been a major attraction and niche-market destination resort for over 35 years, and we are not about to let it go. President Gibbs is very supportive as he knows how vital this resort is for employment.

Source: The Daily Herald