Ritz-Carlton development continues

The opening of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman hotel last December only signalled the successful completion of one phase of the 144-acre development.

Without the same kind of attention given to the construction of the hotel, Ritz-Carlton developer Mike Ryan has continued with the next phases of the development, which will eventually span from Seven Mile Beach to the North Sound.

The newest jewel completed at the Ritz-Carlton site is the 3,515-yard, nine-hole golf course called Blue Tip. The course features five long par-four holes and a 600-yard par-five hole. Water comes into play on eight of the nine holes.

Mr. Ryan said the course, which was designed by professional golfer Greg Norman, is very challenging.

‘When I discussed designing the course with Greg Norman, he said the only way he would design a nine-hole course, as opposed to an 18-hole course, was if it was the best nine-hole course in the Caribbean.’

On most nine-hole courses, there are usually only one or two memorable holes, Mr. Ryan said.

‘On this course, we tried to create nine memorable holes,’ he said

Blue Tip, which will be open only to Ritz-Carlton guests, does offer five different tee placements so less accomplished golfers can play as well, Mr. Ryan said.

Although the course is now completed, Mr. Ryan said it will not open to guests until 1 October. By that time all the work on the bridge over the Ritz-Carlton canal will have been completed, and golfers will be able to safely travel under the bridge to the other side of the golf course, Mr. Ryan said.

Earlier this week, Mr. Ryan met with Mr. Norman and arranged for him to come to Cayman in January for the official grand opening of Blue Tip.

Mr. Ryan and his company have been busy building things other than the golf course, too. Construction is well under way on 16 homes on the smaller of the two ‘islands’ on the Ritz-Carlton development.

These four-bedroom, 3,700 square feet luxury homes, which have private infinity pools and outdoor summer kitchens, have all been sold to AOL founder Steve Case for between US$3.5 million and US$4 million each, Mr. Ryan said.

Mr. Case is the majority shareholder of Exclusive Resorts, a luxury vacation club, and plans to use the homes as part of that company’s offerings. Exclusive Island, as it will be called, will thus become like a resort within a resort.

Mr. Ryan said he saw no problem with the arrangement.

‘We talked about it beforehand and their clientele is exactly the same as the Ritz-Carlton clientele, so we think it’s a good fit.’

Exclusive Island will have some of its own programmes, but its overall management will remain with the Ritz-Carlton.

The next phase of the Ritz-Carlton project, which will involve the development of the second, larger island on the property, is scheduled to start selling by Christmas, Mr. Ryan said.

The 5.5-acre island development will offer a lower price point than everything else that has been offered to date at the Ritz-Carlton.

Mr. Ryan said the residences on that island will be a little smaller in size.

‘We found that what we have on the beach was out of the price range of many people,’ he said. ‘So we’re trying to create a product between $1.5 million and $3 million that still has everything else we offer with the Ritz-Carlton.

‘We’re very excited that they will sell very quickly as soon as we announce that.’

The development will not stop there.

Planning for the 250-unit marina village on the North Sound is already under way.

‘We’re probably going to break ground on that in 18 months,’ Mr. Ryan said.

The marina development, which will contain restaurants and retail elements as well as residential, will give the Ritz-Carlton site two centres of activity.

In addition, five-story villas are planned for the site near the tennis courts.

Mr. Ryan anticipates that the rest of the Ritz-Carlton development would take five years to complete, and that when all is said and done, the construction will have cost US$1.6 billion.

Mr. Ryan said that most of the beach residences have already been sold.

‘We’re 86 per cent sold,’ he said, adding that all but four of the sales had been finalised.

Mr. Ryan said that the inventory remaining was mostly on the sixth and seventh floors. All totalled, he said there are 12 units left, including the whole top floor of the south tower.

Some of the original purchasers have already resold their units at large profits, Mr. Ryan said.

‘We’re pleased that some of the original purchasers that got in with us early have had some re-sales at 50 to 100 per cent appreciation,’ he said. ‘It’s nice to see those who stuck it out with us through all the bumps and hurricanes have been rewarded.’

Mr. Ryan acknowledged that there have been rumours swirling recently saying that his financing bank, the Royal Bank of Scotland, was going to call in the loan and repossess the Ritz-Carlton property.

The rumours have no substance, Mr. Ryan said. ‘I’m current with my payments. The loan is in good order and it is not in default.’

Mr. Ryan said he had a pretty good idea where the rumours were coming from.

‘It’s sad that over the years, people who have been enemies of the project can’t let go and recognize all the benefits it’s bringing to the island,’ he said.

Mr. Ryan said his financing arrangement goes through 2007. He is not sure if he will refinance through the Royal Bank of Scotland or another institution, noting that he has several other financers interested in doing business with him.

‘Now [that the hotel is complete], I have options,’ he said.

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