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Billionaires Battle Over a Hotel and Quality of Life on St. Barts


The Dupré companies started the projects as the island was dealing with new concerns about sustainability. A 2016 Wildlife Conservation Society report stated that the island’s environment is “rapidly degrading” because of land-based pollution draining into the sea and destroying marine habitats, urbanization and overfishing. A year later, Hurricane Irma devastated the island, worsening an already dire housing shortage for workers.

That tension may explain some of the animosity toward Ms. Dupré and her husband, Mark Nunnelly (a former managing partner at Bain Capital, former chief executive of Domino’s Pizza and an investor in an outsourcing concern, a call center and other ventures). Someone scrawled “Get Out Dupré Pig” in red on the white construction wall — a highly unusual act of vandalism on the mostly crime-free island. One of the English-language island online forums has a chat titled “Death to Domino’s Pizza” in reference to the hotel project.

“In one corner you have this billionaire business firm and in the other a bunch of local people saying please don’t damage our marine life,” said a Youngstown, Ohio, attorney, Eddie Czopur, who has been staying on St. Jean Bay during the winter season for years. “It was like a ‘Rocky’ story, that the locals won.”

But Ms. Dupré and Mr. Nunnelly are hardly the only superrich who have been accused of making plans that seem to ignore island scale or Caribbean aesthetic. Islanders have watched as tycoons have increasingly competed to see who can anchor the biggest yacht in the harbor, or build the biggest villa.

The local government recently restricted the size of new villas to under 150 square meters (a little over 1,600 square feet). But at least 50 previously issued construction permits are still in the pipeline — meaning new mega mansions will surely be erected. The once- crystalline waters around the island have turned cloudy as construction-runoff sediment damages reefs and drives off sea animals. One marine biologist who works on the island told me she cried after returning to a diving site once teeming with turtles and sharks and finding it barren.

Ms. Dupré and her husband declined to comment for this article, referring questions to Mr. Stanton, a spokesman for Ms. Dupré and her company, SAS St. Jean Beach Real Estate. He said the company will appeal the ruling against the L’Etoile permit to a higher court in France in March, but that adjudication will take at least 15 months. Ms. Dupré still hopes to build a hotel, but will fill in the hole as ordered once the collectivité grants permission, he said.

“She has a deep background in hotel management, and Denise and the family have had a special affection for the island for more than 20 years,” Mr. Stanton said. “She and the St. Barts team she worked with feel they were very attentive to bringing a peaceful, beautiful thing to this beach, and will continue to engage in constructive dialogue with the community about the project.”


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