In order to build the first new resort in the US Virgin Islands in 30 years, Nantucket-based hoteliers Mark and Gwenn Snider needed a prime location. In this case, that perfect location meant purchasing a private island.
Technically, the Sniders don’t own the entire island, only about half of it. But their 42 acres on Lovango Cay, an islet about 10 minutes by boat from St. John, is more than large enough to create an off-the-grid getaway with a villa, cottages, and even glamping. So far the Sniders have opened a restaurant, a beach club, and the aforementioned villa on the property, which they call Lovango Resort & Beach Club.
The next phases of the project will include building 55 cottages and setting up glamping sites, along with selling 14 residential lots. Despite the ambitious scale of the project, the couple said the resort will occupy less than five percent of its acreage. Lovango even has its own reverse osmosis water plant and solar plant.
“There are many beautiful, big properties in the Caribbean,” said Mark Snider. “But they come in and bulldoze everything and the end result doesn’t reflect the location. It could be anywhere in the Caribbean. The mission here is to honor the island and to have a location that is sensitive to the topography and the vegetation. Something that fits right into the island. So it’s a little different strategy. And I think we found the right place for it.”
If their names sound familiar (and they should if you live on Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard), it’s because the Sniders own the Nantucket Hotel and the Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. The Sniders bought the dilapidated and deserted Nantucket Hotel, formerly known as the Point Breeze Hotel, nine years ago, and revived the sagging shell of a building into one of the top hotels in the country. It has since won a wheelbarrow full of awards, including being named the top hotel in the country by TripAdvisor. Their Winnetu resort has also picked up a few accolades over the years.
The pair were looking for a different kind of island for their third venture, and if you’re going to open a new resort on an island, the Caribbean seems as good a place as any. But the Sniders said their motive for choosing a warm-weather destination wasn’t just about escaping the bone-chilling winter fog of Nantucket. They were also looking to bolster their cadre of year-round workers.
“It’s very hard to have people who only want to work seasonally,” Mark Snider said. “People want to work year-round, and that’s completely understandable. This has given us a great opportunity to cultivate a back and forth for people from the Virgin Islands to work in New England and New Englanders to work in the Virgin Islands. I think having the credibility of Nantucket gives people the confidence to come down here. And because it’s a US territory, people can work in either location.”
Lovango Cay is mostly unoccupied (there are currently three residents on the island), and doesn’t have a particularly stellar history. There is a popular, and rather dubious legend that 18th-century pirates would frequent a brothel on the cay called Love-and-Go, hence the name Lovango. Again, the brothel theory is purely speculative. During the current century, the cay was to be home to a development called Lovango Estates. The project failed, leaving an opportunity for the Sniders to come in. In order for them to build, they first had to jump through a long series of bureaucratic and environmental hoops.
Although guest cabins have yet to be built (construction takes place this summer), the nightly rate is expected to be between $495 to $1,000, depending on the season. The three-bedroom villa, which is currently available to rent and sleeps eight, ranges from $1,750 to $3,500 per night, depending on the season. A private boat takes guests between Lovango and St. Thomas.
“We want the island to be open with trails for hiking and walking, and then golf carts for getting around. It’s its own world, but it’s very close to St. John so you can take the boat in for dinner or lunch, or go to a national park. So it’s very accessible,” Gwenn Snider said. “But we do hope that by next December, when everything is hopefully back to normal, there will be additional accommodation for people to enjoy.”
Much like the properties in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, the decor of Lovango Cay will reference the surroundings, but not hit guests over the head with consistent Caribbean interiors. (Sorry, that means no palm frond wallpaper.) Think luxury Caribbean resort by way of New England. But the couple primarily wants guests to notice the stunning surroundings.
“Gwenn and I visited lots of different properties over the years,” said Mark Snider. “When we found this one, we just both fell in love with it because it allowed us to create something that is what I think people really imagine the Virgin Islands to be.”