A tale of two Bays

When looking at
Cayman’s two largest and most important developments, Camana Bay and Dragon
Bay, it’s easy to forget that neither are new developments.  Both got their genesis in the mid-to-late
1990s, though it took years for either of them to see any completed structures.

The Ritz-Carlton,
Grand Cayman opened in December 2005, more than three years before Developer
Michael Ryan announced that the overall project, which included the hotel,
would be called Dragon Bay.

Mr. Ryan always
planned to develop more than just the hotel and the beachfront condominiums
known as The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

“The heart of the
long-range Dragon Bay plan is the Ritz-Carlton,” he says. “It’s the beating
heart that forms the rest of the project. 
The goal is to build a community that is like nowhere else in the
world.”

The hotel formed the
first phase of the development and The Residences, which were basically built
simultaneously, formed the second phase of the project.

With land stretching
from Seven Mile Beach to the North Sound, the development then moved inland
with Exclusive Island and The DeckHouses forming the next two phases of Dragon
Bay.  In 2006, the nine-hole Greg
Norman-designed Blue Tip Golf Course opened. A fifth phase of the project,
called Secret Harbour, breaks ground this month.

Dragon Bay really
expanded as a development in 2007 when Mr. Ryan’s company bought 220 acres of
adjoining land that was known as Safe Haven. It gave Dragon Bay some 360 acres
total, enough to expand the concept significantly, and to put an 18-hole
championship golf course into the plan.

The redesigned Dragon
Bay was largely inspired by an 11-month sailboat voyage Mr. Ryan took with his
family that visited many of the world’s most renowned coastal communities.  The concept is, as Mr. Ryan explains, “a
series of islands, linked together as a community that redefines life on the
water”. 

Those islands will
become the future phases of Dragon Bay, including Dragon Bay Estates, Dragon
Keys, Harbour Village, Dragon Bay Beach Club, Dragon Bay Country Club and
Dragon Bay Boutique Hotel & Spa, which includes suites built out over the
water.

“At Dragon Bay, our
plan is to take advantage of Cayman’s unique opportunities to create something
that exists only here, and that goes back to our community concept of islands,
interlinked by canals,” he said. “Each island is its own neighbourhood.”

Mr. Ryan says he
anticipates completion of the project between 2025 and 2030.  However, the developer realises all his plans
could be for naught if the Cayman Islands Government does not support
development in general.

“There are two
potential Dragon Bays in the future; one has derelict buildings, empty houses
and a derelict golf course,” he said. “If we don’t stop doing what we’ve been
doing for the last 10 years, that’s what it’s going to look like.”

In particular, Mr.
Ryan points to the fact that stay-over tourism has basically remained static or
even declined for more than a decade.

“In Cayman,
[developers] need to rationalise the cost of doing business here,” he said,
noting the higher costs here for water, electricity, insurance, labour,
housing, and just about all goods.

 

Ways to boost tourism

 

The only way he can
see rationalising development is to increase tourism, which would involve,
among other things, improving the infrastructure here.  One item at the top of his list is
lengthening the airport runway so that Cayman could accommodate larger
aircraft, which could make long haul flights from Europe and western North
America possible.

“If we don’t do this,
we are facing a very bleak future; a future, like many in the region, where
there are failed projects, where there is no investment or growth, where there
is no revenue to provide the services people need and expect, where there are
no job opportunities for people to earn a decent living, where we are in the downward
spiral so typical in the region, a spiral Cayman has managed to avoid – so
far.”

However, Mr. Ryan is
still optimistic.

“The other future,
the future I bought into and continue to buy into every day, is kind of back to
the future, back to the ‘80s high-end tourism, kind of like the Monte Carlo of
the Caribbean,” he said.

Mr. Ryan said that
many of the things that can set Cayman apart from the competition in the eyes
of the discerning, world-travelled visitor that he believes should be Cayman’s
primary target market, are already here; things like world-class restaurants,
safe outdoor-areas, beautiful beaches and a clean ocean that allows a variety
of activities.

 

A look into the
future

 

Mr. Ryan feels that
with the right support, Cayman could offer a vacation experience unparalleled
in the region.  He envisions Dragon Bay
guests arriving at a special Dragon Bay terminal at the airport and being
driven to a Dragon Bay boat terminal near the airport.  From there they would take a water taxi to
the development for check in.

“That’s what the
future could look like,” he said.

Although the visitors
and buyers at Dragon Bay so far have tended to come from the Northeast and
Midwest areas of the US, Mr. Ryan believes that could change easily with a
longer airport runway.

“In terms of overall
tourism arrivals, it won’t take a lot to get to 400,000 to 500,000 stay-over
tourists per year,” he said.

By opening Cayman to
more people from the UK, Europe and Asia, Mr. Ryan believes Cayman will also
change its population demographics, and thus the demographics at Dragon Bay.

“In 20 years, I think
Cayman will diversify even further and will be more cosmopolitan,” he said.
“Right now, we are a slightly Anglicised American outpost, with a broad mix of
people to make the place interesting. 
Similarly, Dragon Bay will be a unique Cayman mélange of locals and
part-time residents.”

Mr. Ryan’s hope is
that Dragon Bay will ultimately become known by its name overseas, with an
iconic identity.

“Then Cayman’s net
really spreads out,” he says.

Mr. Ryan says some
world travellers rate the Caribbean as second tier when it comes to luxury.

“They’ll tell you
that if you want to go to the best of the best, then go to the Far East,” he
said. “The truth is, we can be better.”

 

Camana Bay

By its nature, Dragon
Bay will be a tourist destination first, but with many aspects that appeal to
Cayman residents. Camana Bay, situated about a mile south on the Seven Mile
Beach corridor, is just the opposite.  It
will be a community for residents first, but with many aspects that will appeal
to tourists.

Mark VanDevelde, the
CEO of Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd, the developer of Camana Bay, said the vision
is to create a vibrant and diverse town.

“We want to attract
people who live and call Cayman home on a permanent basis and to draw, as well,
those visitors who wish they could, but instead are satisfied with calling it
their second or third home,” Mr. VanDevelde said. “Our focus is squarely on
creating a community where people want to live because they know their
neighbours, they know the owners of the businesses they frequent and they want
to spend time just enjoying their space.”

Unlike most
residential developments, phase one of Camana Bay began with the construction
of the commercial town centre.  Starting
in late 2007, office buildings and businesses, including a six-plex cinema and
a book store, opened.  Since the opening
of the original buildings, a school, restaurants, rental apartments, a 24-hour
fitness facility and more retail stores and offices have followed.

This year will see
several more restaurants open as the town centre becomes the heart of what will
eventually be a thriving community.

Like Dragon Bay,
Camana Bay has also expanded in scope over the years. Purchases of large tracts
of land to the north and south of the original 226-acre property created a
development plan consisting of more than 500 acres.  This allowed Dart Realty to plan even more
elements in its town community.

Countless events,
from big ones like the Jazz Festival, Taste of Cayman and the Christmas-time
Parade of Lights, to weekly musical performances on The Paseo by local bands
have taken place in the Camana Bay town centre.

“We have put a lot of
time and energy into events and encouraging people to come to Camana Bay to enjoy
the public facilities and grounds,” Mr. VanDevelde said. “It is evolving in to
a place of weekly and monthly rituals; a true gathering place for people who
enjoy the music, dining and shopping opportunities. These people, who visit
today, could be living here tomorrow.”

 

Residences catching
up

 

So far, however, not
many people can call Camana Bay home.  
Only the 63 terrace apartments, which have been rented and not sold,
have been built so far.  The rest of the
housing part of the development is all in the future; a future that might take
several decades to complete.

“In 20 years we are
likely to be 50 per cent or greater into the land plan that we have, with a
greater proportion of the commercial and retail neighbourhoods built,” Mr.
VanDevelde said.

“The phasing plans at
current thinking could take us into 30 and possibly 40 years of development,”
he said. “Like any town, it takes decades and generations of people to create
the actual place…”

Mr. VanDevelde noted
many points of interest for tourists, including: a botanical walk, the art and
mosaics, the observation tower, the shopping, entertainment and dining
experiences, the Discovery Centre that will be opening this summer, the harbour
area that lends itself to marine activities, and several other things.

“In terms of
differing offerings for locals and residents, obviously some events are more
geared towards one or the other, but the beauty of Camana Bay is that there is
so much on offer that the appeal is to visitors and residents alike…” he
said.

Although Mr.
VanDevelde sees some of Camana Bay’s tourists coming from cruise ships, he also
sees Camana Bay as a place for stay-over tourists.  Eventually, the plan is to offer stay-over
tourists lodging at the development.

“Hotels are part of
the long-term plan for the town of Camana Bay,” he said. “There are no firm
plans at this time regarding locations, sizes or whether or not they will be
branded or independent.”

One thing that
probably won’t exist at Camana Bay, at least on site, is golf.

“Currently, the
vision is not to have a course within Camana Bay,” said Mr. VanDevelde.
“However, an affiliation with an existing or future course located elsewhere on
the Island might be consideration we would look at closely.

 

Camana Bay and Dragon
Bay are two of Cayman’s largest and most important developments.

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