Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd. has begun to raze the five-storey Courtyard Marriott Hotel and will replace it with a new 10-storey hotel that is scheduled to open in late 2015.
Jackie Doak, chief operating officer for Dart Realty, said that after the Dart Group purchased the property from developer Stan Thomas in January 2011, it envisioned adding to and renovating the existing structure to create a four-to-four-and-a-half star hotel.
“We felt very comfortable that we could build around the existing structure,” she said, adding that it was accepted that the room sizes would have to remain small. “So we went down the path of looking for [hotel brands that had experience renovating… existing hotels.”
Toward the end of 2012, Mrs. Doak said Dart Realty had a comprehensive master plan for the hotel and its site and were close to submitting a Planning application for construction. Interior demolition had already been completed in anticipation of renovation.
“Then we took a step back and did a fresh evaluation of where we were,” she said. “We really wanted to get the hotel open as soon as possible, but we wanted to know we were putting the right product on the ground.”
The collaborative evaluation led to a discussion about what could be attained for the property if the building were demolished instead of renovated and a new hotel constructed instead.
By razing the existing building and starting from scratch, Dart Realty realised it could improve and many aspects of the hotel design, including larger rooms and a larger, better lobby area. It would also allow them to move the hotel farther back from the beach and raise the ground floor, giving the hotel better views of the ocean and protecting it more from storm surge during hurricanes.
In addition, a new hotel would allow for underground parking, maintenance and housekeeping facilities, all of which would add to the aesthetic experience at the hotel.
Demolishing the existing hotel and building a new one will also provide more construction jobs, Mrs. Doak said, noting that about 250 people will be employed during the construction of the new hotel.
One drawback of demolishing and starting afresh versus renovation was that it would delay the opening of the hotel by one year.
“We’re now looking at the 2015 hotel season for opening,” Mrs. Doak said.
Even that drawback has a silver lining.
“It gives us three years before opening to plan and execute our commitment to encourage and recruit young Caymanians with what we call the hospitality heart,” Mrs. Doak said, adding that Dart Realty is looking for Caymanians who might not have the knowledge or experience in the hospitality industry, but who have an understanding and personality it takes to work in the industry and who think of hospitality as a career, not just a job.
These recruits will be sent overseas to work in the hotel operator’s properties where they will be fully immersed in the brand’s culture. When the hotel opens in 2015, these recruits would be able to fill significant roles on the staff, which is expected to require between 700 and 900 employees.
The first of two phases of complete demolition started this week with the stripping of the old building’s facade.
The contract for the first phase was awarded to Island Builders Co. Ltd. after being put out to bid.
“There are 50 Caymanians working on site, all of whom last week went through our construction safety training,” Mrs. Doak said. “This project will put about $1.5 million into the economy almost immediately.”
Once the facade is completely stripped, the demolition of the rest of the building will occur. That project is already out to tender and will be awarded next week. Although some bidders have suggested implosion as a demolition method, Mrs. Doak said Dart Realty had some concerns about using a new technique here, so it would proceed with the traditional demolition method.
“We factored that into the construction schedule and doesn’t impact it significantly,” she said.
While the demolition is taking place, design will begin for the new 10-storey, 200-245 room hotel – which will include conference/wedding facilities, meeting spaces, a spa, and an area for children. The hotel rooms themselves will be larger and include some suites.
“While the number of rooms may be similar [to the renovation plans], the product will be extremely different,” Mrs. Doak said.
Melissa Ladley, senior manager public relations officer for Dart Realty, said the goal is to submit the design schematics to the Central Planning Authority in July.
“This aggressive [timeline is] based on appointing the design architect in March,” she said, adding that the goal, depending on permitting, is to commence construction of the new hotel by the fall of this year.
The concept is still to create a four-to-four-and-a-half star hotel.
“In the region, that’s where the market is growing,” Mrs. Ladley said. “There’s a little saturation at the luxury end.”
The whole hotel project, including the demolition, is estimated to cost more than CI$140 million, she said.
The original Courtyard Marriott structure was completed in 2000 and opened as a Holiday Inn. In 2004, the hotel was sold and rebranded as a Courtyard Marriott. In November 2008, it closed after being damaged by Hurricane Paloma and never reopened.