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.
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However, that offer has since been rescinded.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since written to the tenants association, saying that the commitment was conditional on legal opinion and has now been withdrawn.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.