Partially obscured by grass and weeds, its walls crawling with rampant bougainvillea, the vacant Alexander Hotel on Cayman Brac provides a striking counterpoint to the growing sense of optimism surrounding tourism on the island.
The reasons for the continued closure of the hotel are political rather than economic, according to its owner Cleveland Dilbert.
“I am still waiting for the government to give me approval to do the marina,” said Mr. Dilbert, who closed the 31-room property in June 2014, after a protracted standoff over the offensive smell coming from a neighboring saltwater pond.
Realistically, he does not expect the controversial project to be approved by the current government.
“I am hoping that at the next election things will change,” he said. “I can’t reopen it under the current circumstances.”
When Mr. Dilbert closed the hotel, he said he had lost faith that government would “keep its word” and allow him to deal with the smell emanating from a neighborhood pond – a promise he insists was made before the hotel was even built.
His proposed solution involved cutting a channel from the ocean into the pond and transforming it into a marina for visiting yachts. The plan was met with a chorus of opposition and was deemed unfeasible by the Department of Environment.
Mr. Dilbert was asked to fund an environmental impact assessment study on the development but refused, citing the involvement of Department of Environment officials in the environmental impact assessment process as a conflict of interest. He said this week that his position has not changed and he is not considering reopening the hotel.
“My position is that while it is overgrown, and it pains me a lot to see it that way, there is nothing I can do at this point,” he told the Cayman Compass.
“I am still waiting for them to get this harbor thing going.”
He said there were no economic concerns with the venture and the hotel had received glowing tourist reviews, but the visitor experience was spoiled by the smell from the pond.
“People loved the hotel, but it was ruined by the smell. I couldn’t continue to put my name behind it. My pride is too much to be associated with those kind of adverse reviews and reactions.”
Despite the unkempt appearance of the property and the state of the swimming pool, Mr. Dilbert says it is safe and secure. He said the building itself and the rooms are in good condition and he could feasibly reopen within a few weeks.
But he insisted it was not worth spending the money to reopen the property without the pond issue being resolved.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell, during a trip to the Brac last week for the opening of the newly renovated Cayman Brac Beach Resort, said improvements to that hotel combined with increased airlift to the island showed things were picking up. Asked about the importance of the Alexander Hotel reopening, he said, “It is important generally for us to get more hotel rooms on Cayman Brac. Everything is a chain. Once you see that we are bringing in more people, you will see private investment increase.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said he had not had any new discussions with the Dilbert family over the Alexander Hotel. He said there were government staff on site every day dealing with the smell from the pond: “It is not completely gone, but it is much better than it was.”
He said he felt government was doing its job by improving airlift and creating the environment for development to take place.