Editorial for August 20: The Hyatt: Mow it down

Today’s front page article regarding the legal morass surrounding the former Hyatt Regency hotel is something of a “he said, she said” story. Here’s what we say: Mow it down.

Frankly, we don’t care who mows it down – be it the Cayman government (through eminent domain) or the owners (through a sense of good corporate citizenship).

For nine years, the Hurricane Ivan-damaged structure has sprawled vacant next to one of the Cayman Islands’ busiest roads in the heart of our world-famous Seven Mile Beach tourism district, dragging down surrounding property values. Nine years. Nine unacceptable years where the only residents of the once-grand hotel have been rodents, vermin, and a plethora of other critters too unsavoury for our imaginations even to contemplate.

We agree with then-Premier McKeeva Bush, who in mid-2009 appeared to take a hard line against Hyatt owner Embassy Investments, saying the hotel should be restored by the end of that year, insurance dispute or no.
However, as such things happen from time to time, the government did not follow through on its warning. The result has been four more years of blight.

We understand from the new People’s Progressive Movement government that it was meeting with the former Hyatt/Britannia group to finalise details on a new hotel project. We’ve also heard that Embassy proposes to turn the property into a Hilton-branded 168-room business hotel. If true, the project would be a welcome addition to Grand Cayman’s resort offerings.

Unfortunately, the property owners have chosen not to speak publicly about their intentions, which, in light of the insurance company’s countersuit for defamation, may be understandable. Embassy has also not filed an application for a new hotel with planning officials.

Our country’s Development and Planning Law contains provisions requiring proper maintenance of land. The penalty for disobeying is a fine of $25,000 per day in relation to land or buildings in a hotel/tourism zone, or imprisonment for six months. The penalty for further offences in a hotel/tourism zone is $2,000 per day, or imprisonment for three months. Those penalties are not insignificant.

If the property owner would have been fined in accordance with the law just for the past year alone, the penalty would be more than $9 million, which is six times more than the settlement amount last offered by the insurance company to Embassy.

We do acknowledge that last fall’s partial demolition project improved the situation from horrendous to terrible. Perhaps the stricter penalties enacted under the 2010 version of the planning law played some role in Embassy’s decision to perform some work on the property. The property owner’s successful renovation of the seaside portion of the resort into what is now Grand Cayman Beach Suites demonstrates their ability to bring about a renewal project.

In early July, another “Ivanised” building – a house in Bodden Town – was finally torn down, but only at the request of the property owner herself. Health Minister Osbourne Bodden said at the time that going to court over derelict properties is difficult and time-consuming.

That may be, but concerns about Cayman’s legal system should not be an excuse for government inaction in regard to an eyesore of this magnitude. Embassy and the insurance companies have certainly demonstrated their comfort in dealing with Cayman’s courts.

Our government leaders should be confident enough in laws they wrote, and competent enough to enforce them, for the betterment of Cayman.