“Inspired by maritime buildings that have stood the test of time,” avers architect John Haley, “I’m crafting the new in the style of the old.” Underneath an iconic cupola, the brand new Customs House is indeed reminiscent of the formidable shipping company headquarters that lined the Thames in Victorian London or antebellum Boston. Look more closely, though, and the building is quintessentially Caribbean.
Kittitians are reminded of the 1894 Treasury Building in their capital, Basseterre. Built using local volcanic “plantation’’ stone, with arched openings in handmade brick, the three-storey structure houses marina operations, customs and immigration, a fitness centre and crew lounge, plus the real estate sales office. “My approach is rooted in a personal study of the island’s distinct cultural history, nature and stories,” says Haley.
“The Customs House is more than an anchor; it’s the building that defines Christophe Harbour to the West Indies, and possibly to the world. Its impact will be ‘grounding’—not only for the Federation itself, but for all those who live and make their way here.”
The edifice is at the heart of the Marina Village. “Mediterranean influences are also at play,” reveals Haley. “From a pedestrian square, narrow streets radiate outward into neighbourhoods that will be built with the natural topography on the hillside overlooking the harbour.” Luxury shops and an al fresco coffee bar are already frequented by visiting superyacht crews, guests at the new Park Hyatt, and visitors from elsewhere on St Kitts and Nevis.
And this year, the marina—a full-service affair with a fuel farm and slips for yachts up to 250 feet in length—is setting new sailing records, headlined by the visit of 16 superyachts and 205 crew members for the third annual Caribbean CrewFest, the March visit by a prominent US Yacht Club with a further 40 yachts, and the inaugural Gustavia Yacht Club-Christophe Harbour Cup race from St Kitts to St Barths.
Chief Executive Buddy Darby has even bigger plans for the 2018/2019 season. “In January, we’re welcoming a fleet of magnificent yachts for the finish of the legendary Panerai Transat Classique 3,000-mile transatlantic race.” What is rapidly becoming the region’s ultimate homeport is also looking at hosting another classics race next April, and a superyacht regatta in February.A key ingredient to the destination’s success is ease of access. “A big bonus for us is an international airport on St Kitts that handles large capacity planes from the US and Europe, so it’s easy to get crew in and out,” explains visiting superyacht skipper Stewart Fontaine. “And the airport has an exceptional private terminal, the YU Lounge, to welcome yacht owners and our charter guests. You can also hop over to Nevis on a water taxi, while St Barths and Antigua are just a 15-minute flight or a few hours’ sail away.”
As well as the sociable reception, new homeowners find the twin-island Federation of St Kitts and Nevis to be a haven of financial security, political independence, recreational diversity and environmental distinction. Christophe Harbour has just launched a new selection of lots on Upper Pavilion Hill. Priced at US$1.3 to US$1.85 million, with panoramic Caribbean and Atlantic views, these estate-sized lots are some of the largest released to date.
Houses built on them will also look over to the new Customs House, already something of a beacon. John Haley is excited: “To handcraft a place where people share experiences and feel good, that’s really what it’s all about.”