Nearly everyone agrees that government can never be the architect, engineer and financier of the plan to reinvigorate downtown. It simply doesn’t have the resources — financial, physical, or creative — to direct such an undertaking.
Minister Kurt Tibbetts seemed to acknowledge that in his recent statements regarding the revitalization effort:
“When we talk about expense, that is all to do with private sector development. The private sector is going to be spending money, yes, to revitalize the district, but they are doing that on a commercial basis,” he said.
Mr. Tibbetts added that government will spend $20 million on improving road connectivity and still more on making downtown more pedestrian friendly. The government also continues to pursue the George Town harbor cruise berthing project, though the related “addition by subtraction” proposal — that is, removing the cargo docks away from downtown — has been absent from the government’s agenda for quite some time.
An important way the government can act as facilitator to investors is, ironically, by doing less, not more. It should ruthlessly reduce red tape and lower or eliminate fees associated with development in the downtown area.
(In principle, we oppose the reduction of duties and/or fees for private developers, but it has become such a common practice — in Cayman and elsewhere — that investors have come to consider such concessions as part of their routine negotiating strategy. To remain competitive with other jurisdictions, we may just need to accept the practice and move on … )
At this point, let us lend our support to the government’s road works that serve to route automobile traffic around downtown, rather than through it. Hopefully the expansions and widenings of Godfrey Nixon Way, Linford Pierson Highway, Smith Road, etc., will finally de-clog the regular bottlenecks that develop during rush hour south and east of downtown.
We will, however, add a word of caution to Mr. Tibbetts and his planners who would push the idea of implementing “trolleys” or other “park and ride” systems with the expectation that drivers will park their cars on the fringe of downtown and then take public transit to downtown’s core.
People become much less likely to use public transit each time they must switch their mode of travel (i.e. from car to bus or “trolley”) and even more so when walking distance exceeds a quarter-mile (probably shorter in Cayman, due to hot and humid conditions).
As has been demonstrated at Camana Bay, a sufficient supply of nearby parking is vital to viable development — a conundrum that has never been adequately addressed in our center city. Many (most?) of our citizenry won’t venture into George Town during the week simply because there’s no place to park.
On two related topics, we aren’t so sure about the advisability of demolishing the old Glass House on Elgin Avenue and replacing it with a park. We question whether that is the “highest and best use” of this valuable property. Additionally, we are skeptical, given its location, whether a park will attract enough visitors to justify such a non-commercial use. If, however, the plan is simply to “park the park” until a better opportunity presents itself, that might make more sense.
In regard to the “Turtle Dome” — the proposed waterfront ice-stadium touted by Mr. Tibbetts as a key plank in downtown’s redevelopment — we’ll reserve our judgment. For now, we’ll simply wish those private entrepreneurs “smooth skating and good luck.”