Brac's Divi Tiara awaits economic, tourism upturn


Cayman Brac’s Divi Tiara Beach Resort, closed for nearly a decade, continues to deteriorate while the Legal Department contemplates court action against the North Carolina owners who failed to comply with a 2014 abatement order. 

The Department of Environmental Health order came on Jan. 14 last year, according to Thomas Augustine, environmental health officer for Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. “We sent it by post to the U.S.,” he said, “and I affixed copies to each of the buildings.” 

He numbered the structures at “six or seven,” while the site itself, which includes approximately 600 feet of prime waterfront, has been pegged between 4 and 5 acres. 

“They received [the notice],” Mr. Augustine said, “and they gave responsibility to a gentleman here in the Brac, but the work was only partially completed.” 

The department granted a five-week extension on April 24, but when the work remained incomplete by May 31, the matter went to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr. Augustine said. 

“We have done our part, and are just now waiting on the Legal Department.” 

Director of Environmental Health Roydell Carter described the work on the hotel, timeshare buildings and grounds as “some minor clearing, but it did not meet compliance [with the order],” he said, ‘and there has been no further work on the property.” 

He declined comment on the schedule or intentions of DPP lawyers, saying only that any outcome “would be something up to the court.” 

“The DEH has certainly been waiting, trying to get something,” he said, acknowledging that “it will take some time.” 

While he did not rule out a possible move by the Cayman Islands government to repossess the property, regulations remain unclear and the Office of the DPP had not responded to queries by press time. 

At the Chapel Hill headquarters of Divi Resorts – a name derived from the native-Caribbean “Divi Divi tree” – Chief Operating Officer Marco Galaverna was reluctant to comment, saying only that “we still own the property and the buildings and the land. 

“We are watching developments on the island,” Mr. Galaverna said, observing “huge development on Grand Cayman,” including hotel refurbishment, rising tourist arrivals and growing condominium construction, “but there is no development going on in Cayman Brac.” 

Minister for Tourism, Sister Islands MLA and Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell acknowledged the resort needed “major work to bring it back,” but said “we should encourage Divi to improve,” and, seeking to boost Brac tourism, addressed concerns about the island’s economy and local resorts’ viability. 

“One of the things they had said,” Mr. Kirkconnell recalled after Divi shut its hotel doors in 2006, leaving only a handful of timeshare apartments, “was about airlift.” Hotel executives had cited insufficient international flights to the Brac as a primary obstacle to guest arrivals. 

“We have addressed airlift with the ‘right-sizing’ of the fleet, 30-seater aircraft and international flights,” enabled by recent expansion of the Brac airport terminal, Mr. Kirkconnell said. 

“Arrivals have increased 20 percent per month since we put on more flights in October, and in June we will start return flights to Miami,” he said. Rebuilding damaged structures post-2008 Hurricane Paloma is “pretty much complete, and the cruise ship has called every week since the improvements,” he said. 

“What we are looking for now is private-sector investment,” he said. “It’s a lovely island and I think there is great potential over there,” Mr. Galaverna said. “We are watching and still trying to decide.” Meanwhile, Cayman Brac RCIPS Inspector Harold Forte said the overgrown grounds had not created policing issues. 

“I am not aware of any problems,” he said. “I think the last time we were there was at the end of 2014.  

“I’ve seen it, of course, but we’ve had no reports and no reason to investigate. I think no one has been charged [with overseeing] the property itself, but there have been no reports of trespassing so we have had no reason to enter.” 

Two years ago, in May 2013, filmmaker Jordan Liles posted to YouTube a 40-minute video, “The Abandoned Resort in Cayman Brac,” exploring the grounds, buildings, offices, guest rooms, dining room and even walkways at the Divi Tiara, observing in acute detail the deterioration of the facilities.  

“It sure is an eyesore, a dilapidated site,” said Brac MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly. 

Economic problems cited 

When the 71-room Divi Tiara closed, its owners cited economic problems led by insufficient airlift from the U.S. 

Six of its 12 timeshare units continued to operate. However, after Hurricane Paloma, the corporation ended all operations, although the group loaned the facility to government to house Brac reconstruction workers in the wake of the storm. 

“Originally, it was in pretty good condition, but Paloma really did some major damage,” Mr. Carter said. In 2009, former Divi resorts CEO E.J. Schanfarber said he was studying redevelopment of the site to broaden its appeal beyond a dive destination. 

“Prior to Hurricane Paloma, we were reviewing several scenarios pertaining to the redevelopment of the Divi Tiara site,” Mr. Schanfarber said at the time, linking the plans to regular airlift from Miami and Texas. 

“Airlift from a major Texas city and direct from Miami to the Brac is essential for us to sustain a new development,” he said. “We dedicated a significant amount of resources to studying the potential of the destination and believe a new resort is viable if airlift [were] in place.” 

The Divi Tiara hotel closed its doors in 2006 and was later badly damaged in 2008’s Hurricane Paloma. – PHOTO: ED BEATY


The Divi Tiara closed in 2006. – PHOTO: ED BEATY