Camana Bay’s 10-year anniversary has received a lot of attention, but for Mark VanDevelde, CEO of Dart Enterprises, the past decade has represented less than half of the time he has been involved in seeing the master-planned, multi-decade project reach this point.
A Dart employee since 1994, VanDevelde was on the ground here on Grand Cayman when Ken Dart bought the old Coral Caymanian hotel and its adjoining 238 acres of land in 1995. He’s had a hand in the development of Camana Bay ever since.
With another 10 to 20 years of development still planned at Camana Bay, VanDevelde reflected on the past and talked about some plans for the future of the New Urban community.
Dart has been flexible in its approach to the development of Camana Bay, allowing market demand and other factors to drive the building schedule, which unfolded differently than planned. A main part of that difference came from a greater demand than expected for large-scale premium office space, referred to as “Class A.”
“I think what surprised us the most, and it was a fairly significant surprise, was the demand for Class A office space at Camana Bay,” VanDevelde said, noting that in the buildout of the first five buildings in the development, only one — 62 Forum Lane, in which EY is the anchor tenant — offered Class A space. “Over half of that building was pre-leased while we were still in the design stage, which gave us an indication that there was strong demand out there for that kind of office space.”
After completion of the first five buildings in the Town Centre, development was expected to revolve around residential offerings, but demand for Class A office space was one of the reasons Dart took a different approach.
“Our building 62 Forum Lane, coupled with the lack of capital investment in competitive products, particularly in downtown George Town, created a significant demand for those folks wanting to move to Camana Bay,” VanDevelde said. “The result of that was 89 Nexus Way, where Dart’s offices are now, along with Ogier and CITCO, and then the 94 Solaris Avenue building with Mourant Ozannes and Aon. That was followed with 18 Forum Lane, with PwC being a significant anchor tenant, and we’re just now finishing One Nexus Way.”
Those four additional Class A office buildings have dominated Camana Bay’s design and construction efforts since the opening of the Town Centre in November, 2007, but that focus will gradually change, VanDevelde said.
“The development plan for Camana Bay in the next 10 to 20 years is predominantly residential,” said VanDevelde.
RESIDENTIAL FOR LEASE
Multiple residential offerings are coming to Camana Bay, but there will also be more Class A office buildings.
The next area of development in Camana Bay being master planned centres around the current parking lot near 62 Forum Lane and 89 Nexus Way and is referred to as “Block 7.” It will be divided into two sub-blocks and consist of multiple structures, including two Class A office buildings.
“The first office building is where Dart’s headquarters will relocate once we complete the project,” said VanDevelde. “We will end up taking approximately 25 to 33 per cent of that building and the plan is that it would be a long-term headquarters for us so we can stop moving around. With the considerable growth of Camana Bay and our other real estate investments on the island, we’ve experienced tremendous growth in staffing, so we’re trying to accommodate that from a long-term office perspective. Luckily we’re in the business of building so we are able to do that and hopefully we can preserve some space in that building for eventual growth as well.”
Completion and occupancy of that building is currently scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2021.
The current master plan for the southern portion of the new development block includes another Class A office building and a large parking structure that will serve all the Block 7 buildings, plus 89 Nexus Way, 18 Forum Lane and One Nexus Way. The development block will also incorporate a significant component of residential offerings, VanDevelde said.
“We know there is significant pent-up demand for residential product,” he said. “Right now, we only have the 63 units that make up The Terraces, which have been heavily oversubscribed since we first leased them. There have been times we’ve had more than 100 people on waiting lists to try to get into The Terraces and that’s evidence that people are wanting and willing to live here, and wanting to look at a variety of different residential options, including leased apartments.”
The first phase of the next block of development also includes a for-lease residential building, VanDevelde said.
“Internally, it’s being described as ‘The Cube’ right now,” he said. “The apartments will range in size from studios to two-bedrooms.”
Some of the common amenities in the building include several community spaces and a retail component on the ground floor that will spill out into a large park that is over an acre in size.
“The park is a pretty big commitment in terms of the size of the green space that we’re providing right in the heart of Block 7, but it’s very consistent with our commitment to green spaces and public open spaces throughout the Town Centre.”
The Cube isn’t the only residential offering planned for Block 7, VanDevelde said.
“The other residential component, which has not been finalised yet, is what we call ‘The Liner’ building, because it is lining the parking structure,” he said. “It’s in the early design stage and this is a for-lease residential building on the eastern face of the parking structure, so it will provide an aesthetic treatment to the very large parking structure. This is a very interesting concept from an aesthetic perspective as it relates to the views it will offer of the park and to providing a visual buffer to the parking structure.”
Between what is being referred to as The Cube and The Liner, VanDevelde said there would be an increase of 150-for lease residential offerings.
“So in effect, we’ll be more than tripling our for-lease offerings at Camana Bay,” he said. “The design work for those buildings is underway and timing wise we’re probably under construction 12 to 18 months from now, with a three- to three-and-a-half-year construction period after that.”
RESIDENTIAL FOR SALE
Eventually, Camana Bay will also offer many different types of residences for sale. Although these offerings are in the conceptual stages, VanDevelde spoke about the current thought on some of these for-sale residential offerings.
“There are a few locations we’re contemplating, but the general concept for the first residential offering is a tower with a mix of for-sale product that would range from one-bedroom apartments up to three bedrooms, and maybe a couple of four-bedroom penthouse units. If and when we ultimately determine the design specification and the location of the block for this concept, it would likely be our first for-sale offering at Camana Bay.”
It’s possible, however, that some building lots could become available for sale before the tower apartments are offered.
“We could get some lots identified and subdivided with the appropriate by-laws and architectural guidelines in place prior to the completion of for-sale residential block, so it’s not out of the question that we’d have lot sales available within the next couple of years,” VanDevelde said.
The area east of the Festival Green, on what is referred to as the “Central Island,” is one of the primary locations Dart is looking at subdividing into lots.
“We’ve always contemplated some north-west channel cuts that would create additional islands behind the Festival Green,” he said, adding that these islands would be connected to each other by roads with culverts underneath. “Conceptual plans call for a string of four islands. We’ve got flexibility in terms of where those north-south cuts go to determine how large each island is and market research would inform that work.”
Another location option for residential for-sale offerings is the island north of the Town Centre across from the 94 Solaris Avenue building. That “North Island” could also be split up into two or more smaller islands, with the one closest to the Town Centre offering three- to-four- storey townhouse apartments. The Festival Green itself will also eventually be developed and will include residential offerings, but no firm plan is in place yet.
“What we really want to do in the future is have the Town Centre wrap around the Harbour basin,” he said. “We certainly see the Festival Green area as an extension of what we’ve done to the western side of the Harbour basin, so we want to make sure we get the master planning right before we commit that piece of property.”
The fact that Dart is investing significant capital to build the bridge to the Festival Green — something that was considered essential to the development of the Central Island — has shifted some priority to the development of that land, VanDevelde said.
OTHER CAMANA BAY DEVELOPMENTS
Other areas of Camana Bay will also see development in the coming years. The development of one of those areas with a 60,000-square-foot grocery store to be operated by Foster’s Food Fair and a parking structure has already been announced.
“Fosters Food Fair will bring what we expect is a world-class supermarket, proximate to the Town Centre and Camana Bay in general, that will serve everyone living on Grand Cayman and visitors alike,” he said. “We’re very much looking forward to getting that project underway and to seeing the store open in a couple of years.”
Another other key area of upcoming development in Camana Bay — the Resort Village — will be towards Seven Mile Beach.
“The big catalyst for development in the resort area will be the selection of where the planned five-star hotel product will be located,” VanDevelde said. “The hospitality customer and the residential customer will drive a variety of entertainment and retail needs as well as determining the common spaces and associated infrastructure like parking.”
Some of the infrastructure for the Resort Village — like the Esterley Tibbetts Highway underpass and the West Bay Road underpass — has either already been completed or is under construction.
“Those underpasses provide for elevated access from Seven Mile Beach to the Town Centre,” said VanDevelde. “That whole area in between roads, including the top of the underpasses, and the Seven Mile Beach area, is what we refer to as the ‘Resort Village.’ It’s anticipated in the future that that whole area will consist of a resort and resort amenities and would include residential and resort-residential, as well as retail and entertainment facilities.”
With five large Class A office buildings in Camana Bay and more on the way, VanDevelde said it presents an opportunity to provide entertainment and residence offerings to the high number of professionals that now work in the development.
“When we look at what we want to do over the next five years, it is more geared toward entertainment and residential offerings and providing that completed circle of live, work,
learn and play.”
CONFIDENCE IN CAYMAN
In addition to the continuing buildout of Camana Bay, Dart also continues to make other investments in the Cayman Islands. This year alone, it has purchased The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and its associated lands and the Royal Palms Beach Club lands, which adjoin Camana Bay. The reasons Dart continues to invest in the Cayman Islands are the same ones that led to the purchase of the Coral Caymanian property way back in 1995.
“The Cayman Islands is a good place to do business for all the reasons we have seen and experienced in the 20-odd years we’ve been here,” said VanDevelde. “There’s political stability, economic stability, potential for growth, low crime, proximity to the United States and a stable currency. All those things add up to make Cayman a very special place. I like to think some of the things we’ve done and are doing — things like creating education facilities, improving the quality of infrastructure on the island and providing communal spaces for people — have helped to raise the quality of living on the island. To a certain degree it is self-perpetuating: Cayman is a better place now because of some of the things we have done and that gives us more confidence to invest in the location.”
VanDevelde also thinks Dart’s 20-year track record of investing in the Cayman Islands helps provide a level of comfort to new investors thinking about coming to the country. Similarly, Dart’s own experiences over its time here have raised its confidence to invest more.
“Twenty years ago there were a lot of uncertainties to development,” he said. “But because of our experiences on the island and our expanding execution capabilities, the risk profile is a lot different now.”
Dart’s high concentration of investment in the Cayman Islands is also a reflection of where it sees the country going.
“We are going to see growth in the hospitality sector, particularly in the affluent demographic,” he said. “The Ritz-Carlton and the Kimpton brands, along with the brand we’re looking at for the new five-star product, all have strong global affiliations and brand awareness, which, over the next 10 years, will help us drive growth in leisure and business visitor arrivals.”
VanDevelde said a more affluent customer base is also a more resilient customer base, one that is less vulnerable to changes in the global economy.
“I’d like to see ourselves, government and others in private sector working towards a much more strategic alignment and set of objectives in effort to attract a more affluent tourism
customer, which leads to a greater economic benefit per visitor.”