By  on April 3, 2007

T-shirts and straw hats were always the standard retail fare in St. Thomas — that is, until the opening last month of the Yacht Haven Grande. The development christens a strategy to elevate retailing and dining in exotic seaside destinations.

"This is a new concept in hospitality," said Andrew Farkas, chairman and chief executive officer of Island Capital Group LLC, the New York-based real estate merchant banking firm that intends to roll out the Yacht Haven Grande format in the Caribbean, on the East and West Coasts of the U.S., in the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. The strategy entails transforming existing marinas or building new ones with state-of-the-art docking for mega-yachts, smaller cruise ships and other craft, as well as developing shopping, dining, hotel, condos, yacht clubs and various recreational facilities.

Farkas said 27 projects are in the works: The Montauk Yacht Club on New York's Long Island, Rodney Bay in St. Lucia and Nassau in the Bahamas are next in the pipeline. Projects in Cabo San Lucas, Antigua, St. Martin, Tortola, Virgin Gorda and Dubai are also planned.

Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas, a U.S. Virgin Island, encompasses a 22.5-acre marina on Charlotte Amalie Harbor, and an eight-block stretch of development along the waterfront that includes a 120,000-square-foot retail village. Stores currently include such brands as BCBG MaxAzria, Bebe, Caché, Coach, Chico's, Little Switzerland, Roberto Coin, Sunglass Hut and White House|Black Market. Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Shae Designs, a local crafts shop, will all open within six weeks. Restaurants have a local flavor and include Wikked, Fat Turtle and Grande Cru. The space is 90 percent leased, according to Island Capital. Stores should generate $500 to $800 in sales per square foot based on projections from retailers. Jewelers could generate $1,000 to $3,000 in sales.

Phase one of the project, which cost $160 million, was celebrated with a grand opening March 17, with more than 50 mega-yachts in port, fireworks and a performance by The Beach Boys. Phase two, starting in six months, calls for a 70-room hotel, another 40,000 square feet of retail, one or two more restaurants, a 25,000-square-foot conference center, more docks in the marina and other amenities, at an additional cost of $40 million.According to sources, a range of real estate and banking firms and individual investors, are backing the Yacht Haven Grande rollout, including Vornado Realty Trust, Emigrant Bank, The Related Group, Banco Popular and the government of Dubai. In New York, Island Capital owns 450 Lexington Avenue, 230 Park Avenue, W Hotel on Union Square and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Time Warner Center.

Farkas, the son of Robin Farkas, who ran the former Alexander's chain, knows a thing or two about retailing. He characterized the retail experience at most cruise destinations as "very tired and extraordinarily homogeneous." But Yacht Haven Grande, with its smattering of luxury and range of upscale offerings for those coming off cruise liners or the more affluent arriving in yachts, offers "a little something for everyone. It's aspirational."

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