Announcement made to staff Thursday
The Alexander Hotel in Cayman Brac is closing indefinitely – the latest twist in a long-running saga over controversial plans to build a marina on the property.
Cleveland Dilbert, the owner of the hotel, said he had lost faith that government would “keep its word” and allow him to deal with the stench emanating from a neighborhood pond – a promise he insists was made before the hotel was even built.
Mr. Dilbert, who made the announcement that the hotel would close to its 19 staff on Thursday, said he was not making the move in protest or out of spite. He said his reputation and the hotel brand risked being permanently damaged if it remained open.
The hotel will close June 15. Mr. Dilbert said the hotel would notify customers who had already made bookings beyond that date.
The decision to close comes just days after tourism minister and Brac legislator Moses Kirkconnell announced the appointment of a special Environmental Oversight Board – set up specifically to oversee an environmental impact assessment process for the marina plan – Mr. Dilbert’s proposed solution to the pond issue.
That move was too little, too late for Mr. Dilbert, who believes government is paying lip service to the issue and has failed to deliver on numerous promises to take concrete action over the smell.
The marina plan, which involves cutting a channel through the reef and excavating part of the pond to create a safe harbor for visiting yachts, met with a chorus of opposition and was deemed unfeasible by the Department of Environment, which has an advisory role in assessing coastal works applications.
In the wake of that assessment, Mr. Dilbert said in April that he was closing the hotel. He was persuaded to back down from that position following talks with Mr. Kirkconnell and other government ministers.
At that point, government had agreed to allow Mr. Dilbert to excavate the pond while an environmental impact assessment took place on the wider project – an accord which both parties said would be formalized in a memorandum of understanding.
Legislators met in the Brac later that month and passed a resolution showing support for the marina project and creating the oversight board – effectively cutting the Department of Environment out of the discussion. The resolution also called for the matter to be dealt with within eight weeks.
Two months later, Mr. Dilbert says he still has no memorandum of understanding and has seen no progress toward officially approving the excavation of the pond or providing terms of reference for the environmental study.
Meanwhile, the hotel continues to suffer bad reviews which he says could do irreparable damage to his reputation.
“In the first part of this year, we were the top hotel on Trip Advisor. Now we are at the bottom. The only bad reviews we get are about the smell.
“We had a group come in recently from New York and they checked out after two days because of the smell.
“We are going to close until it is sorted. We can’t continue to run the business like this. We have to maintain our standards,” he said.
Mr. Dilbert said he would never have built the hotel, which opened in 2009, if he had not been assured by government that the pond smell could be dealt with.
He said he had invested in equipment to pump sea water into the pond to mitigate the smell – a strategy that was partially effective until the equipment broke down.
Now he wants a more permanent solution. He said the marina would deal with the issue, while providing an economic boost to the island.
He said he is prepared to pay for an environmental impact assessment – which he believes will vindicate his claims that the project is nowhere near as damaging to the environment as the Department of Environment’s technical experts suggested.
But the Dilbert family says the lack of action from government has caused them to “lose faith” and they are closing the hotel.
Damien Dilbert, Cleveland’s son, said, “Everybody says they support it, but nothing happens. Nothing. We are no longer prepared to invest in the word of government.”
Mr. Kirkconnell did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.