Port retailers fear for future

Tenants at port and airport want first refusal on space in new facilities

Tenants at the Royal Watler dock and the Owen Roberts International Airport say their businesses are in limbo as they wait to hear if they will be granted space in planned new facilities.

Robert Hamaty
Robert Hamaty

Retailers at the airport have been told they will have to bid for space in the new expanded terminal.

At the port, tenants were initially offered first-refusal on retail space if a new cruise terminal is built.

However, that offer has since been rescinded. Robert Hamaty, president of Tortuga Rum Company and chairman of separate tenants’ associations for both the port and the airport, said the 28 shops and restaurants at the two facilities should be given automatic rights to be part of the new developments.

He said the businesses collectively employed upward of 150 people.

According to Mr. Hamaty, retailers at the port had already been put on one-year leases, which could be terminated at a month’s notice.

“Right now, there are tenants in there that don’t know from day to day where their livelihood is going to come from,” he said.

According to minutes from the Port Authority’s December 2015 meeting, they were offered security of tenure once the new port is built.

The minutes record, “Members agreed to amend the existing license to reflect that the licensee will be given first right of refusal should a new retail outlet be constructed as part of the proposed cruise berthing facility.”

However, port director Clement Reid has since written to the tenants association, saying that the commitment was conditional on legal opinion and has now been withdrawn.

“Upon reviewing the legal opinion, the Authority has decided it would be inappropriate to grant any rights of first refusal at this time,” Mr. Reid wrote in an email in May.

Government has previously indicated it plans no new upland retail development with the cruise piers that would compete with local stores and restaurants.

But Mr. Hamaty said tenants are seeking firm guarantees that they will be included in the new facility.

He said many smaller retailers were also concerned that they could be priced out of the process if rents become prohibitively expensive in order to help fund the dock. The situation is mirrored at the airport, where tenants have been told they will have to apply for space in the new facility in a competitive bid process.

Albert Anderson, chief executive officer of the Cayman Islands Airports Authority, said there were no plans for any special treatment for existing tenants. He said a request for proposals would go out in the coming months.

“We are not going to say ‘you have been here for 20 years so you can just stay,’” Mr. Anderson said. “Everyone who wants space in the terminal is going to have to bid for it, and we will go through the normal RFP process.”

He said the objective was to ensure that all interested retailers, including the existing concession holders, had an equal opportunity to submit a response to the request for proposals in a “fair and transparent manner.”

Mr. Anderson said anyone currently running a business at the airport would have an inherent advantage in the bid process because they would know what to expect.

Mr. Hamaty said he wanted to see stronger reassurances to retailers, some of whom have been involved with the airport since 1962, that they would be guaranteed first refusal.

“When the old airport was closed, everybody was grandfathered in to the new one,” he said. “When they took down the Tower Building, those shops were grandfathered into the port. That is the decent way to do business.

“We should have first refusal, they want us to work with them while they shuttle us around and keep the airport open but then they are going to kick us out.”

He said he had been through similar experiences with his businesses in airport developments in the Bahamas and Montego Bay in Jamaica.

In Montego Bay, he said, businesses were required to pay a base rent, as well as 20 percent of their gross, to the airport owners.

“The person who can pay them the most wins the bid. It is almost a platform to eliminate small businesses from the airport,” he said.

Mr. Anderson said the formula for the bid process had not been decided yet.

Port director Mr. Reid was unavailable for comment.

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  1. Be careful what you wish for as the saying goes. You actually expected you could beg for new facilities and that there wouldn’t be changes in the way things operated after? There’s no free lunch.

  2. This Port and Airport deal will be watched carefully, by all so my suggestion would be that the right thing is done.
    Mr Albert Anderson you have a job to do, do not let politics interfere.
    Investigations need to show that all get a fair share. Not one person being allowed to have two or three spaces, no matter how much money they have. Furthermore I do not agree or support that any tenants be given firm guarantee on any decision, that because they have been there for 20 years they must continue another 20, that is ludicrous dictatorship, something we do not want here.
    Mr Andersons decision is supported that NO SPECIAL TREATMENT be given to existing tenants and this need to be supported by Mr Reid.
    Every one who wants a space should go through the proper bidding channel in a fair and transparent way.
    Some business on the Island is just too greedy and it is about time they are made aware that other persons want to live too.

  3. I don’t know about the airport but if the cruise operators put money into the dock they’ll insist on putting their own outlets in first. That’s the way it’s been everywhere else so that won’t change. The only upside is they’ll probably re-employ all the existing staff.

  4. my name is Robert Hamaty. its not greed my friend its business trying to fight for their employees. please bid for a airport space bring your audited financials bank reference that you can afford $500 per sq ft build out(1 millon us $ for a 1000ft build out . its sealed bids highest bidder winds .? hello what’s your chances? I know my own is zero. Get the facts ask for a bid sheet .

  5. Robert, I’m confused by your comment. Do you believe that asking for financials and bank references to prove that you can afford the space you are bidding on is unreasonable? Do you think that space going to the highest bidder is not right? You do understand it costs significant amounts of money to build these projects which you yourself lobbied for. How did you expect them to recoup the costs if not selling space to the highest bidder? I don’t think it’s your employees you are concerned about. They will mostly be able to get jobs at whatever shops open up. You are worried about your own bottom line.