At the Royal Fidelity Cayman Economic Outlook conference on Feb. 28 at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin announced that Dart has proposed building a mixed-use “iconic tower” in Camana Bay that would incorporate hotel, residential, retail and entertainment spaces.
If the proposal is accepted, Dart would invest an additional US$1.5 billion in the development and in infrastructure improvements to support economic growth in the Cayman Islands and provide resilience should the predicted recession occur.
The announcement was made during the premier’s annual address at the conference, which this year had the theme “Dynamic New World: Braving the Turmoil.”
After detailing the excellent position of the current Cayman Islands economy, McLaughlin spoke about how the country needed to prepare for the challenges of the future. “If we are to maintain, and indeed improve, our place in the world far into the future, then we need to be bold and think big,” he said. “In my view, it only makes sense to think about bigger and bolder steps if we are confident in the foundations that are needed to support them.”
Although the immediate economic prospects for the Cayman Islands are strong, McLaughlin conceded that there were “uncertainties and threats facing the country.” However, he said he believed Cayman’s financial services and tourism industries could nevertheless continue to deliver “sustainable levels of growth.”
“But growth, too, brings its own set of challenges that we must manage,” he said. “If we are to continue to grow, it is my view that we need to make really creative use of the scarce space we have, and, despite the huge strides we have made in recent years, we must improve our future infrastructure, particularly our road network.”
McLaughlin said that over the decades, the government has gradually allowed taller buildings as demand for development property increased.
“This demand continues and indeed strengthens and, with the growth we are now experiencing, there is already pressure to go beyond the current maximum of 10 stories above ground level,” he said. “I pose this as a series of questions that we as a nation should now consider. Do we want to continue with the approach of incremental change? Or is now the time for us to think bigger and act more boldly when it comes to our land use and building heights?”
McLaughlin spoke about the possibility of changing the restriction on building heights in George Town as a way of revitalising the capital.
“The other obvious example of the potential for taller buildings is along the Seven Mile Beach corridor,” he said. “All the messages about the strength of the tourism market and the luxury housing market suggest that there may be no obvious limit to building height in terms of what the market will bear.”
In answering the hypothetical questions of what the community would be willing to support, McLaughlin said the answer would crucially depend on the benefits that developing taller buildings would bring.
“I said earlier that if we are to take bold steps, then there must be clear and tangible benefits for Caymanians. If development is seen to be just about luxury hotels and accommodations for rich foreigners, then our community will rightly reject it. If, on the other hand, it is [actually about] the delivery of improvements in infrastructure and economic and employment opportunities, and the social conditions of Caymanians, then I believe this is a debate we should be willing to engage in.”
McLaughlin revealed that he has recently spoken to Dart Enterprises representatives about “plans for a landmark development within Camana Bay that includes an iconic tower that would greatly exceed the current development height limits, creating a new skyline that would be recognisable the world over.”
“With this development, they will commit to investing in excess of an additional $1.5 billion into the Cayman Islands economy, not just in the development itself, but also in critical infrastructure improvements and supporting workforce development.” McLaughlin said the current approach of gradually increasing the height restrictions of buildings along Seven Mile Beach is unlikely to maximise the full economic benefits of the Seven Mile Beach corridor for the Cayman Islands.
“The alternative is to be bold and look at something different — a more proactive approach that considers taller buildings and that conserves ever scarcer beach land on the important Seven Mile Beach strip.”
McLaughlin said that taller buildings for hotel developments in particular could generate much more income and economic activity than other types of developments.
The project would offer considerable economic benefits, including more and different construction jobs and new business and job opportunities for Caymanians. McLaughlin said a prerequisite for the proposed project — or any similar proposal — would include road improvements as well as social infrastructure, which could include improvements to Cayman’s schools or investment in affordable housing for Caymanians.
Dart Enterprises CEO Mark VanDevelde said the iconic tower, which would include a luxury hotel brand, would drive awareness and visitation to the island.
“Dart would welcome the opportunity to partner with the Cayman Islands Government in creating an iconic building that would be recognised around the world as a symbol of our national identity,” he said.
McLaughlin made it clear that the government had made no commitment to Dart’s proposal. He also said the government understood that there would be those who objected to the plan. He told the story about how “passionate devotees of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris” strenuously protested what they called “the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower.”
“Yet now, the Eiffel Tower is not just part of the Paris skyline, it is the very symbol of the city itself,” he said. “Could we in Cayman imagine a similarly iconic structure here that would come, not to threaten our cultural heritage, but to re-imagine it and symbolise the bold future we want for our island and our people?” McLaughin said he had no doubt that his announcement of the proposal would be “highly controversial and ignite considerable debate.”
“If so, good!” he said. “That is my intention because this is a debate that the country needs to have.”