Move over, Seven Mile Beach. After decades of waiting in the wings, it’s time for the ivory sands of Bodden Town to step out into the limelight.
The proposed St. James Point resort and condo development, in the Beach Bay area of Grand Cayman, could spearhead an economic rejuvenation of our country’s original capital, for which district residents have been clamoring since, well, when the first flocks of tourists landed on our shores and began to gravitate to Seven Mile Beach, East End and Rum Point.
An overlooked understudy no longer, the district of Bodden Town has been selected as host to a grand (as in, 10 stories tall), luxury tourism-oriented development. If all goes to plan, the $200 million project will open within the next 2.5 to 5 years, including 200 hotel rooms, 75 residential units, retail stores and a spa. (And that’s just Phase One.)
According to the developers, who have been heavily invested in the planned resort for a number of years, construction of the project will create about 750 temporary jobs, and after opening, about 325 permanent jobs.
It’s easy to envision the potential knock-on effects of the St. James Point resort, in the form of increased demand from new tourists for nearby services and attractions. The Beach Bay site is conveniently within distance of the Seven Mile Beach corridor, on the one hand, Rum Point on the other, and all locales in between.
Cayman Islands government officials deserve credit for securing a written commitment from the developers, who are associated with an investment management firm in New York.
The government and developers signed an agreement whereby the government will grant up to $25 million in concessions (in the form of waivers, reductions or rebates of fees or duties), so long as the resort is built and opened by the middle of the year 2020, subject to various stipulations. For his part, developer John Layton said they hope to open the hotel in early 2018.
The announcement of the deal has sparked the predictable criticism from the usual suspects, who are upset that the government would give tax breaks to a private developer. We take their point, but will hone it, and redirect it in a slightly different direction.
We find nothing untoward with granting significant tax breaks in order to attract development. However, out of principle and pragmatism, perhaps those tax breaks should be applicable to all — large international investors as well as small, local developers. Otherwise, the “playing field” — meaning the free market — becomes inherently unfair and uncompetitive. Presumably and predictably, it will be the small, and local, businesses that will be put at a disadvantage.
In spite of this, we are not recommending that the back-and-forth negotiations between government and individual private developers should be conducted in public. No deals of any consequence could ever move forward in such a politically charged context.
What is needed is trust in our lawmakers to act in the best interest of these islands and their people. After all, we elected these officials to represent us and, if collectively we’re not happy with their stewardship, well, that’s what the next election is always all about.