“Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”
Over the past decade, the closest thing the Cayman Islands government has had to a unified tourism and development plan is the “Go East” initiative – meant to “spread out” economic activity across Grand Cayman, rather than concentrating it on Seven Mile Beach.
Like most bureaucratic attempts to centralize the management of a country’s economy, it appears that our government’s vision of private sector trends was less than 20/20.
Today, the Seven Mile Beach corridor is more robust than ever. Developers are pouring massive quantities of money, capital, concrete and steel into the densest and most economically electric area of the country.
Understanding this long-term pattern, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush recently made headlines with his suggestion that Cayman consider allowing the construction of 20- or even 30-story buildings in the Seven Mile Beach area, in effect doubling (or tripling) down on Cayman’s greatest asset.
In contrast, the eastern districts of Grand Cayman, along with the Sister Islands remain, shall we say, ideal and idyllic places to nap in a hammock.
(There is, of course, absolutely nothing wrong with that. Quite the opposite. When we pitch the attraction of our islands to visitors and prospective employees, we highlight our country’s variegated tapestry and the individuality of our districts. Some are dense and noisy, some are charming and restful. All have character.)
Yes, there has been significant development “out east” in the past few years, including at Health City Cayman Islands, Morritt’s Resorts and the planned Ironwood golf resort. However, those are “outliers,” each of which seeks to be a largely self-sufficient destination unto itself, taking advantage of the area’s characteristics (seclusion, quietude, and widely available vacant property) rather than fighting against them.
Given the greater quantity and lower expense of land to the east, what is it about Seven Mile Beach that secures a laser-like focus from investors?
Consider the following:
- “Why does Cayman have so many hedge funds?”
- “Because that’s where the hedge funds are.”
Put another way, Cayman dominates the hedge fund market because the hedge fund market was created here, and all the necessary supporting services, legal structures and regulatory environment already exist, tailor-made for the market.
That reasoning can be extended to understanding what makes Seven Mile Beach so special from a tourism and development standpoint.
Distilled into three points, Seven Mile Beach possesses the advantages of geography, history and infrastructure.
Other than commenting that Seven Mile Beach itself is nature’s gem bestowed upon Grand Cayman, and accordingly the tourism sector grew up along it, we won’t dwell any further on the first two points.
The third, infrastructure, merits elaboration.
It would be easy to gesture to the Dart Group (and its Camana Bay, Kimpton and future hotel projects) and say that this single entity is responsible for Seven Mile Beach’s vibrancy. Just this week, Dart began a trial removal of beach rock as a preliminary step in the possible construction of a new five-star resort. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the test has encouraging results.
Sure, Dart is a primary driver of Seven Mile Beach development — but there are a multitude of other economic engines, including the owners of The Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Westin, shopping plazas and condominiums.
More so than any single residential or commercial development, it is Dart’s infrastructure projects (i.e. the expansion and widening of the Esterley Tibbetts highway, and the new automotive “underpass”) that have raised the ceiling for possible progress in the Seven Mile Beach corridor.
The government deserves credit, too, for those road projects. By the same token, the government also bears responsibility for the one thing that continues to hamper Dart’s plans for Camana Bay – its noxious and toxic neighbor to the south, the George Town Landfill.
So, pardon us if, when officials try to tell us to focus on all the possibilities that lay out to the east, we keep our gaze fixed to where the sun sinks into the sea each evening. Cayman’s past, present and foreseeable future favors the economic climate along Seven Mile Beach.