Grand Cayman is in the midst of an unprecedented development boom, with more high value planning applications approved in 2017 than ever before.

Projects approved by the Central Planning Authority this year are already double the value, compared with the same period last year.

So far in 2017, the planning authority has approved 1,013 projects, ranging from private homes to major hotels, worth a combined value of $688 million. The previous highest recorded net value for planning approvals in a year was $481 million, in 2008.

Several major developers have hailed the impact that the increase in investment is having on the economy, and job creation in particular.

Meanwhile, environmental support groups have warned that unchecked development risks compromising Cayman’s natural resources. Sustainable Cayman and Save Cayman called for government leaders to produce a long-term national development plan that balances economic and ecological interests.

Planning Minister Joey Hew indicated in his budget address last week that government will begin reviewing and updating the 1997 Development Plan this term.

Some of the major projects approved in 2017 include:

  • Dart’s underpass on West Bay Road
  • A planned hotel at the site of the old Pageant Beach resort
  • A 10-story luxury condo complex, Aqua, on Seven Mile Beach

NCB’s new 60-room wellness resort in George Town.

The underpass is the first of its kind in Cayman. – photos: Taneos Ramsay

Both Premier Alden McLaughlin and Minister Hew cited the figures in their budget debate speeches as evidence that confidence in Cayman’s economy was high.

Mr. McLaughlin said, “This reflects the increased confidence investors have as a result of the economic performance and fiscal stability that now characterize these Islands.”

Dart Real Estate is responsible for a significant portion of Cayman’s high-value development, including plans this year for the underpass and for a new supermarket in Camana Bay, among other projects.

The company’s president Jackie Doak said Dart’s level of investment in Cayman was a sign of its belief in the strength and resilience of the local economy.

“The Cayman Islands has rightfully earned its place as one of the regional leaders in infrastructure development, is one of the safest Caribbean jurisdictions and is positioned to receive the ripple effect caused by the recent positive economic growth in the U.S.,” Ms. Doak said. “This in turn breeds confidence from developers and investors alike.”

She said the growth in development had a significant impact on jobs, allowing Dart to employ 682 people across its companies, including 419 Caymanians and 69 permanent residents.

“More than 70 percent of our staff across our companies are Caymanian or have the right to work. Our commitment extends to those we employ and train, developing our people as we continue to develop in the Cayman Islands,” she said.

Realtor Kim Lund, co-owner of RE/MAX in the Cayman Islands, said he believed the statistics from the Central Planning Authority showed things were looking positive for the Cayman Islands economy, though he cautioned that not all approved plans actually get built.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Pageant Beach resort.

“Cayman has reached a tipping point and become quite attractive, not only to tourists, but investors wanting second homes and a safe place to invest. The huge improvements that are being made to our infrastructure make Cayman a better place to visit and live,” he said.

Environmental nonprofits Save Cayman and Sustainable Cayman sounded a note of caution about such a rapid increase in development, calling on government to follow the auditor general’s recommendation and produce a long-term development plan.

“As our resources become depleted, our islands, people, and economy face significant risks. For example, protective barriers such as our mangroves and coral reefs are some of our greatest protections to strong storms that are becoming more frequent and intense.

“To build resilience, we repeat our call for sustainable development that balances our ecological, human, and capital resources to protect the interests of current and future generations,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Planning Minister Mr. Hew acknowledged in his budget speech last week that an update to the Development Plan was needed.

“Clearly, the review of the 20-year-old Development Plan is long overdue and I have given it priority,” he said.

The document will be completed in the next 15 months, with broad consultation with all sectors of the community, he claimed

Dale Crighton, who is currently mid build on a luxury condo project, Fin, a partnership with former Ritz-Carlton developer Mike Ryan, said there had been an “explosion of investment” in Cayman, which he expects to continue for some time.

This artist’s rendering shows a balcony at the Aqua development. Bronte says each condo will have 360-degree ocean views.

“This has to be a good thing, considering the vast amount of people employed by the construction industry. Our country can’t survive on the financial and tourism sectors alone.”

He said he did not believe the amount of development was having a negative impact on the environment and said regulations, in that respect, were now stricter than they had ever been.

“At the moment, the major developments are focused in areas that have already been developed,” he said. “As developers explore new areas further from George Town and the Seven Mile Beach areas any potential damage to the environment will be addressed by the new bills proposed to prevent the same.”

Mr. Lund said increased investment and rising tourism had also impacted the real estate market.

“Our property prices previously were quite low, by international standards for similar real estate. They were a very good value. After the global recession, these properties began selling off.

“Inventory has now almost sold out. This has created a strong ‘sense of urgency’ to buy quickly, or you could miss out.

For example, almost every property we sell on Seven Mile Beach is at a record price and usually we have multiple offers for the popular properties.”

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  1. Looks encouraging BUT what about the Ironwood and Beach Bay projects approved years ago. Go take a look, nothing has happened, it is all smoke and mirrors. There is also no mention in this article of the space balls hotel project on the site of the old Mariners Cove. All details are on the CPA website. Several of these and other projects are doomed to failure and investors will lose significant monies which will not be good for Cayman’s reputation. Remember over $200m was lost on the Ritz Carlton project and we know who developed that.

  2. Chris, as Kim Lund observed, ‘not all approved plans actually get built.’ I suspect a lot of these applications were made simply to boost the re-sale value of the plot of land involved. These approvals need an expiry date – if you like ‘use it or lose it’ – to prevent this happening.