The Holmes condo after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
PHILIPSBURG–Owners of condos at the former Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort and Casino, now owned by Sunwing Travel Group, are up in arms over the way the new owners have been treating them, claiming that they are being kept in the dark by a lack of information and that they have to pay an indeterminate amount of money if they wish to stay in the rental pool.
Sunwing has not responded to requests by this newspaper for a comment. Owners believe that Sunwing is trying to deceive and squeeze them perhaps to the point where they will be forced to give up their units and Sunwing will be able to buy them for pennies on the dollar.
Sunwing Travel Group purchased the Sonesta Great Bay Resort property in May 2017. The resort included 31 condominium units, 18 of which were privately held. The majority of these were owned by Canadians, who were part of the hotel rental pool, are tied intimately to the hotel and cannot operate independently from the hotel.
Condo owners Brian Holmes and his wife, who owned units 456 and 457, said Sunwing never informed condominium owners of their purchase of Great Bay. “As owners, we had no idea that we were tied to Sunwing in this business venture,” Holmes told The Daily Herald. “Hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten September 6, 2017. It was several weeks after Irma that the owners found out by reading a St. Maarten newspaper of this change of resort ownership.”
Devastated by Irma and unable to do anything on their own due to the nature of the relationship with the hotel, the Condo Board or Homeowners Association (HOA) made multiple attempts to contact Sunwing to no avail.
It was not until December 2017, three months post-Irma, that Sunwing acknowledged the owners by way of sending what Holmes referred to as “a rather aggressive letter” to the HOA. In the letter, he noted, Sunwing acknowledged ownership of the resort, stating that it would demolish what was left of most of it and rebuild.
“Our building would be assessed before deciding how to proceed. Later, it was revealed that the resort would be re-built (mostly as new) with our building to be repaired, and the new resort would be rebranded as a Planet Hollywood Resort.
“It was around that time that the owners learned that the entire hotel had been looted and that all of the furniture from all 193 units of the hotel had been cleaned out. Sunwing had failed to secure the facility adequately after the hurricane and while there were reports of looting on the island, the removal of 193 units’ worth of furniture would have required days if not weeks of effort.
“The owners have never been provided a police report for these thefts, and the situation has been brushed off by Sunwing,” Holmes noted.
He said also that Sunwing had informed the owners that the restoration of the resort would take at least a couple of years after building permits were issued and the owners were to be prepared to pay an indeterminate amount of money for this new branding fit-out if they wished to stay in the rental pool.
“At this point, the owners had been hit with Irma, their entire units had been looted outright (down to the TV mounting brackets on the walls) while under Sunwing’s watch, were faced with no income for several years, and we were told that we would be expected to pay a large not-yet-determined amount to remain in the rental pool.”
Holmes said that while Irma was an act of nature and could not have been foreseen by anyone, Sunwing’s dealings with the owners since has been deplorable.
“They continue to provide minimal to no information, make promises they ignore, thus holding condo owners’ hostage due to lack of information/withholding information.
“An example of this behaviour is the insurance coverage situation. The owners and HOA paid into the insurance policy. Sunwing has refused to share information on the policy.
“There is an element of Business Interruption coverage that is in place and is based on a portion of the entire income loss for the resort. That calculation includes the loss of the rental income of the condo units (there is a profit-splitting formula) and as such, a portion of these monies should be flowing through Sunwing to the owners.”
Holmes said owners have been told flat out that they are not entitled to any of the insurance money, and promises on several occasions to provide a copy of the insurance policy have been either ignored or snowed by providing “a bunch of meaningless and/or redacted documents.”
“At one point, they attempted to pass off several redacted statements/invoices as the actual policy, but to date there has been nothing of any substance provided to the owners,” Holmes said. “It seems that Sunwing is hoping to deceive/squeeze the owners, to what end? Perhaps to the point where they will be forced to give up their units and Sunwing will be able to buy them for pennies on the dollar.
“The condo building sits in a prominent part of the property and will not fit in in a new resort. The fear is that a further blow will be dealt to the owners by Sunwing’s lack of transparency/acting in good faith, potentially resulting in the owners’ investments being a total loss.
“With Sunwing’s less-than-open dealing with us, there is the very real concern that once the resort is operational, they will create a rental/profit-sharing formula that will leave us out in the cold.
“A couple of weeks ago, Sunwing advised the homeowners that the insurance money is now gone. Where did it go? Why are our units not restored? Why is Sunwing now talking about not starting to rebuild for four to five years?”
To add insult to injury, this newspaper understands that condo owners have been made offers from Balaclava NV (owned by Sunwing), to purchase their units for what owners perceive to be a maddening offer. The offer to at least one condo couple is almost US $200,000 lower than what their units were purchased for. Owners have under two weeks to respond to the offer.
The offer is to pay a small portion of the funds at closing and the remainder in four bi-annual payments over a two-year period. One owner paid almost $400,000 in 2013 for their units. Since Irma, owners have not had any rental pool income while still paying their mortgage of about $2,000 monthly. Their mortgage still has about $200,000 outstanding.
In the meantime, in addition to condo owners, who Holmes said are significantly out of pocket and continuing to pay mortgages on still-demolished property, “We understand that there are about 250 timeshare owners who have lost out in addition to the hundreds of lost construction and operational jobs at the resort," Holmes said.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/condo-owners-outraged-by-treatment-from-sunwing