Island Companies announced during the last week of August that it was closing a number of stores at its Flagship Building in George Town.
The blame was placed on the usual suspects, the decline in the number of cruise ship visitors and the amount spent by each, both of which have declined since 2006.
The real culprit, in my opinion, is our own shortsightedness and inertia. As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
Since 2008, I have been pointing out the need to put people into George Town by building residential condominiums and lofts, without the seemingly mandatory obligation to put commercial space on the ground floor. As an example, the Tower Building site has sat vacant since Hurricane Ivan in 2004, representing a lost opportunity to the Cayman Islands government, just for the land alone, of anywhere up to $20 million, had the property been sold or leased to a developer with permission to build residential condos or lofts.
There are a number of other sites in George Town that are also ripe for this kind of development. Another example is the old Walkers office building on Mary Street.
Having people live downtown results in the opening, not closing, of restaurants, shops, coffee houses etc., all the things which take place in a vibrant environment.
The condominiums/lofts do not all have to be large. There are many young professionals on the island working, for example, in Cricket Square, who would be very happy with a one-bedroom condo/loft of 800 to 1,000 square feet, along with the opportunity to walk to work.
On July 2, 2013, The New York Times ran an article detailing that there were at least 55,000 condominium units under construction in the City of Toronto; this was to add to an existing inventory of several hundred thousand units which had been built in the past, bringing the city to life both during the day and at night. George Town is dying.
Restaurants have closed and now we are starting to see the closing of shops by one of the biggest retailers on the island.
The logical thing to do would be to have people in the downtown core, not just during the day but especially at night; this is not nuclear physics. Other jurisdictions seem to have grasped the concept years ago.
Are we to assume that both government and developers on the island are paralyzed by lack of vision? I do not believe this to be the case.
It is not too late to act; let’s do it now.