A large piece of forest land on Little Cayman bought by the Dart Group in March will be held undeveloped for conservation purposes, with the possibility of creating a hiking trail open to the public, according to the company.
Dart Enterprises CEO Mark VanDevelde said the Dart Group was made aware of the availability of the 600-acre property on both sides of Sparrowhawk Hill when it worked with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands to purchase another large property nearby.
The acquisition of the land is the latest in the Dart purchases on the smallest of Cayman’s three islands. Earlier this year, Dart announced it was buying Paradise Villas hotel and the Hungry Iguana restaurant near the airport, and in 2013 the company purchased Point of Sand on the eastern end of the island.
Referring to the land near Sparrowhawk Hill, Mr. VanDevelde said, “You have some older mahogany trees in that area, so it was really interesting on a couple fronts,” noting that Dart Realty owner Ken Dart has bought lands to conserve undeveloped in many places in the world. Parts of those conservation lands are open to the public, and the Dart Group is looking at creating “some hiking paths through the forested lands,” he said.
“Much like we do in Jamaica and some other of Ken’s lands around the world, these are traditionally hand-hewn trails,” he said, adding that surveyors will first mark out a path that capitalizes on the forest terrain.
“The whole point of this is to be able to experience nature, but preserve it so you’re retaining the big trees, you’re retaining various topographic features,” he said. “These would be … another great amenity for people to experience – a part of the island that right now is very difficult to get to or have access to.”
The portion of the property that will be accessible to the public, and even the difficulty of the hike, are still unknown, pending the completion of the work by the surveyors.
Mr. VanDevelde said it was Dart’s intent to “help preserve the distinct natural character and quaintness of Little Cayman” in relation to several different properties it owns there, and that the aim is the same for this land.
“Our intent is to protect these pristine forests for future generations,” he said.
Point of Sand
Since the 2013 acquisition of Point of Sand, the island’s best piece of sandy-bottom beach, the Dart Group has not done anything to the property, and Mr. VanDevelde said there are no plans to develop it.
He noted that there had been some plans posted on the Internet last year on what looked like the Point of Sand property, but the Dart Group has not engaged anyone to create plans for that property.
“It had nothing to do with us whatsoever,” he said. “We had nobody looking at it. We had nobody ask to develop any plans, internally or externally, for Point of Sand.”
Dart sees the Point of Sand property more as an amenity for Little Cayman, Mr. VanDevelde said.
“What we’d really like to see for Little Cayman is similar to how we’re … viewing our lands at Starfish Point, as well as … some element of our lands up at Barkers – as amenity spaces for guests.”
Mr. VanDevelde said the natural and unique settings of places like Point of Sand on Little Cayman, Barkers in West Bay and Starfish Point in Rum Point are something visitors to the islands would enjoy.
“All of them have … unique characteristics of a Caribbean island – all generally remote, sand, great entry to the beach etc.,” he said, adding that some luxury amenities like butler-served cabanas, spa-treatment rooms or an element of food and beverage could be added to each of those three places.
“It would be low-key, low-density, very high quality amenities,” he said.
Paradise Villas and Hungry Iguana
The Dart Group announced last month that it had purchased Paradise Villas, the 12-unit resort on Little Cayman, as well as the adjoining Hungry Iguana restaurant.
Mr. VanDevelde said at that time that the Dart Group shared “the widely held view that Little Cayman’s charm comes from its quaintness and unspoiled nature” and that it intended to preserve that character for future generations.
Nothing has changed in that view, and Dart is not even considering any development plans for the resort and restaurant right now, Mr. VanDevelde said. However, some “relatively small-scale” improvements will be made on the property over the course of the next year, he said.
“The Hungry Iguana and [Paradise] Villas, because they are ongoing operations, have got to be a priority focus for us,” he said, noting that the resort traditionally closes for all of August. “So we’re going to run it through then, close it for August, [and] fully hope and expect all the staff will return.”
During the month that the resort and restaurant are closed, Dart will do some minor renovations to the properties.
“There’s some … safety and security-related improvements we need to see happen,” he said, adding that other improvements will include painting, digging some drain wells to prevent flooding during heavy rains, relocating the reverse osmosis water producing plant and the laundry building.
The Hungry Iguana will also get some furniture and equipment from two now-closed Dart-owned restaurants on Grand Cayman, Ortanique and the Britannia Grille.
With only a month to complete the improvements, Mr. VanDevelde said, they will by necessity be “minor and more cosmetic in nature” for the first year. After that, the Dart Group will look at the property in a broader context, taking into consideration what the government decides to do about the Little Cayman airport and whether it will stay in its current location. If it does, then Dart might look to improve the wider area, especially since it’s the first experience visitors get when they get off the airplane.
Mr. VanDevelde said that whatever Dart might do, it will be in keeping “with the quaint nature of Little Cayman that everyone loves.”