Updated: This story includes a correction listed below.
Some of the money from the multi-million dollar Dart deal will go toward paying off people’s mortgages, Premier McKeeva Bush told a packed meeting to discuss the deal in West Bay on Thursday night.
Mr. Bush said $2.5 million from the deal would be used for a mortgage assistance programme, which could begin by the end of this month.
“In this awful economic climate where the international recession has hit many Caymanians … some are losing their houses,” the premier said.
Dart is giving the government $18 million to invest in education, housing and community programmes as part of the deal.
Mr. Bush did not elaborate on who would be eligible to get the mortgage assistance or how applications would be made. He said more announcements in relation to the mortgage programme would come soon.
In response to a comment from a member of the audience who said Caymanians were a proud people who did not want to take handouts, Mr. Bush said these were unusual times when people needed help more than ever.
He said people who took advantage of the mortgage assistance scheme would have to pay back the money. “This is not a grant,” he said.
“I think it is laudable that we can do this,” said Mr. Bush, citing an example a family losing their $250,000 home when they only had $40,000 to pay off on their mortgage.
More than 150 people attended the meeting hosted by the government and Dart Realty Cayman Limited, under the banner of the For Cayman Investment Alliance, to discuss the proposed wide-ranging deal.
At the beginning of the meeting, moderator Charles Glidden, Premier Bush’s press secretary, asked the audience to bear in mind that the deal had not yet been “signed, sealed and delivered”.
Premier Bush said the government was still trying to hammer out a better deal with the Dart Group.
While much of the meeting was spent presenting the various elements of the deal that have already been made public, MLA Captain Eugene Ebanks announced a new element of the deal involving the creation of a hurricane hole off Barkers in West Bay for boats to shelter during storms.
“This has come up within the last week,” Mr. Ebanks said. “I approached the Dart company and asked if they would consider putting a hurricane hole in there as part of the deal because we boat owners now have nowhere to go in the event of a hurricane.” He said he had met with 22 local boat owners and spoken to three others in the area and all supported the proposal, which would involve a 400 foot square area with an entry path that is 50 feet wide and 8 feet deep.
However, one audience member cautioned against dredging in the North Sound off Barkers to create the hurricane hole, insisting that it would be disastrous for the area.
The deal involves the government giving more than 2,000 feet of West Bay Road from Governor’s Way to Yacht Drive, leading to the closure of that section of road.
One opponent to the relocation of the road said this set a dangerous precedent. Another expressed dismay that the only section of West Bay Road from which drivers can see the sea would now be closed off.
Dart plans to build a four- or five-star hotel on the site of the old Marriott Courtyard, but only if the hotel is situated on the waterfront, hence requiring the closure of the road.
Jackie Doak, chief operations officer for Dart Realty, said two previous hotels on the site had failed and for this venture to be successful, the hotel would have to be moved.
The panel did not answer a question from one member of the audience who asked why so much of the road had to be closed off and why the new hotel’s beach access should be so wide-spread. “Give them the beach across from the hotel, but why all the way down to the Yacht Club?”, the audience member asked.
Another asked how the public was supposed to access the existing public beach and a proposed new one when the road was closed off. Ms Doak responded that access would be possible through roads to various properties that would be located at the site.
“The only part we are going to close in the near term, in 12 months, will be the area of public in front of public beach and the hotel,” she said.
Premier Bush said the speed limit along West Bay Road would be reduced from 40 mph to 25 mph and he hoped to bring the law governing that speed limit before the Legislative Assembly in September.
School for WB
As part of the land-swap aspect of the deal, Dart is giving 20 acres of land in West Bay to the government.
The premier and the minister of education Rolston Anglin also addressed criticism from the audience on why five acres of that land would be given to a private school, Grace Christian Academy, rather than building a new public school. Plans to build the Beulah Smith secondary school in West Bay were abandoned because the government could not afford it.
Cline Glidden said no decision had been made at this stage about what to do with the other 15 acres, but it may be used to house a swimming pool and other community facilities.
The deal also involves Dart giving the government 70 acres of land in Barkers for inclusion in the National Park.
Several people raised concerns that Cayman was losing its public areas of Barkers Beach in West Bay as part of the deal. Mr. Bush, however, insisted that Cayman was gaining land in Barkers, not losing it.
Mr. Ebanks agreed, saying government owned 1,142 feet of land at Barkers and would have 3,236 feet of beach there under the new deal.
Asked if an environmental impact assessment study would be done on the project, Mr. Anglin said there was “nothing sensitive in the area that is being proposed”.
Later, the minister responsible for the environment Mark Scotland said that if there were regulatory requirements to carry out an environmental impact assessment on any parts of the projects, those would be met.
The company and the government in June signed a Heads of Terms Agreement, which records what has been agreed between the government and Dart prior to entering into a formal contract and formed the For Cayman Investment Alliance.
The deal will cost the Dart Group more than $100 million in cash outlay, not including construction-related investment. All together, Dart is committing to US$415 million of direct investment over the next five years, US$200 million of which will be spent in the next two years.
The Dart Group anticipates spending more than $1.2 billion during the next 20 years.
There is no debt, sovereign guarantees or cash outlay required by the Cayman Islands government as a result of the deal.
Other elements of the deal include Dart giving government 110 acres of land for a new solid waste disposal facility in Bodden Town and taking ownership of the George Town Landfill, which it plans to close, cap and remediate.
Dart also intends to pay for the extension of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway north from its current terminus at Raleigh Quay to Batabano Road and create at least one more feeder road from the highway to West Bay Road.
Another public meeting on the deal will be held at 7.30pm, Thursday, 11 August at the Bodden Town Civic Centre.
Update: The size of the hurricane hole referred to by West Bay MLA Captain Eugene Ebanks was changed to “400 foot square”, from the original published “400 square foot”.