From the top of Grand Cayman’s giant Ferris wheel, visitors look out across a diverse cityscape. Cable cars ferry passengers from cruise ships to downtown George Town where tourists mill around the Christian Heritage Monument in Jubilee Park or join queues for the Disney on Ice show at the rink on the waterfront.
Cayman would look very different today if every mooted project had come to fruition.
From the fanciful to the fantastic, developers have brought a diverse range of plans and ideas to the table.
After a record year for development, in terms of the number and the value of projects approved by the Central Planning Authority, Cayman looks to be on the brink of another construction boom.
The Cayman Compass checked on 11 major private sector projects, either financially or visually significant developments, that could potentially shape the future look of the Cayman Islands.
Some are new plans, some have been in the pipeline for up to a decade.
Kim Lund, realtor with RE/MAX and an interested observer, has seen many ideas come and go over the years.
“All of those could proceed and all are at different stages in the process,” he said. “The bottom line is really access to capital.
“Generally, if you see the developer owns the land and has a building permit, then you can say pretty certainly, at that point, that it is going to get done.”
Here’s the latest update from the entrepreneurs and developers behind some of the largest and most ambitious proposals to emerge over the past few years.
The Ice Arena
Word of plans for a 4,000-seat ice stadium in Grand Cayman emerged in late 2014, when a group of Canadian entrepreneurs pitched membership packages to potential clients.
At the time, the plan, according to Tim Best, CEO of Cayman Ice Palace, was to attract NHL teams, a Disney on Ice show and major concerts to the arena.
Originally intended to be situated next to Cost-U-Less, the intended site was moved to George Town. Former planning minister Kurt Tibbetts publicly endorsed the project, telling crowds at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in 2015 that it would be a key part of the revitalization of George Town.
Very little has happened since that time, however, and no plans have been submitted to the Central Planning Authority.
Mr. Best told the Compass, for this article, that he still believes the project will happen, though it may alter from what was initially envisaged.
“I have and will continue to work tirelessly to build a multi-purpose entertainment facility as part of an entertainment district in George Town,” he said.
“Research shows this will be an excellent avenue for the prosperity of not only downtown but for all of Cayman. To that end, my commitment is unwavering until this project becomes a reality.”
Beach Bay hotel
The possibility of a major new hotel at Beach Bay in Bodden Town has been on the lips of various government ministers since 2008.
The project appeared to be moving toward the start line in 2015 when John Layton, a representative of the developer, and the government held a press conference to announce agreement on a $25 million package of duty concessions.
Plans were unveiled at the time for a $200 million hotel, with Premier Alden McLaughlin suggesting it could open by 2018. The developer released artist’s renderings of the hotel and announced plans to partner with government to help complete a link road adjacent to the property.
Little has happened since then, however, and no plans have been submitted to the Central Planning Authority. There have been no announcements about progress on the project since early 2016.
Contacted for this story, Ryan Melkonian, of Melkonian Capital, the New York hedge fund backing the project, indicated it was still part of its plans. “Project progressing well. No further comment at this point,” he said in an email.
Ironwood golf resort
Another major eastern districts development that has been on the cards for several years, without reaching the “shovels in the ground” phase, is the Ironwood golf resort.
Ironwood seemed to hit a significant milestone when it was granted planning permission for a championship golf course in 2016 without the need for an environmental impact assessment. Developer Joe Imparato’s involvement also added credibility to the project.
But the death of Arnold Palmer, the golf legend whose company is involved in the project, was cited by the company among a number of reasons for delays to the start of clearing and landscaping the course.
Negotiations over a proposed partnership with government to build a 10-mile highway extension to help make the resort more viable appeared to have stalled.
Contacted for this story, Ironwood CEO David Moffitt said the developer was hoping to move past those hurdles and revive the road project at the same time.
“Ironwood is progressing; we are wrapping up the site investigation and installation of access road phase, allowing the process of construction mobilization to begin. We are focusing on 2020 for opening, with a final push to complete a license with [the Cayman Islands Government] that allows the 10-mile East-West Arterial Corridor to be complete by then as well.”
Pageant Beach Hotel
The Pageant Beach Hotel has moved swiftly from concept to planning approval and is apparently on the verge of breaking ground next year.
The prospect of a new five-star hotel on the 900-foot beachfront site, vacant since the old Pageant Beach Hotel burned down in 1975, was first mentioned in February this year.
By October, the Howard Hospitality Group, the same developer that runs Margaritaville at the Old Treasure Island property, had obtained planning permission. A US$25 million deal for HHG and its partners New Jersey-based Madison Hill Properties to purchase the 7.1 acre site was finalized this month
Michael Wilkings, of HHG, told the Compass, “We intend to develop a 5-star, internationally branded, resort at Pageant Beach, scheduled to open in late 2020. The resort will include 30,000 square feet of conference and function areas, five pools, seven food and beverage outlets, a private screening room, spa and gym, and approximately 400 guest rooms and suites.”
Enterprise City campus
Since Cayman Enterprise City officially opened for business in 2012, building a physical headquarters for the tech-based economic zone has been the goal.
Initially, the plan was to build 1 million square feet of class A office space at a site in Savannah. That changed in 2014, with Enterprise City announcing it had acquired a 70-acre site in George Town for the development.
Zoning approval was granted in 2015 and a Planned Area Development application indicated long-term plans for a cluster of office buildings, homes, restaurants and a hotel surrounding a man-made lake.
At that time, Cindy O’Hara, chief development officer for the zone, said the pace of development would move in sync with the growth of Enterprise City.
Asked for comment for this story, she said the project was still progressing toward a planning application. She said design work had been under way throughout 2017 and modifications to the PAD application were approved in June.
Ms. O’Hara said she expected to have a substantive update on the project early next year.
It is now more than a decade since the concept of sea-based power was first floated in the Cayman Islands.
The most recent incarnation of the project proposed a floating power plant off North Side that would harness solar energy stored in Cayman’s waters to generate electricity.
Baltimore-based Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion LLC proposed the project – the first commercial application of the technology – in 2014 and signed a power purchasing agreement to sell 6.25 megawatts of energy, roughly 8 percent of Cayman’s daily demand, to the Caribbean Utilities Company in September 2016.
The last word from OTEC, in an interview with the Compass in March, was that an environmental impact assessment had been completed and was about to be submitted to government. At that time, the company anticipated a series of public meetings in summer 2017 before the EIA could be finalized and the project could begin to move through the planning and coastal works process.
That timeline seems to have been delayed, however. The company said it expected to make another announcement in January.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, confirmed this month that consultants had completed an environmental impact assessment and submitted it to the DoE, though it has not yet been reviewed by the Environmental Assessment Board.
“It now needs to go out for public consultation for the final stages and to issue the final Environmental Impact Statement once public comment has been taken into account,” Mr. Austin said.
On a smaller scale than some of the other mooted developments is NCB’s 60-room hotel.
The developer bought the land, the site of the old Treehouse Restaurant opposite Kirk Supermarket, in December last year and has moved swiftly through the design and planning process.
CEO Matthew Wight said the hotel would mix business and pleasure for a luxury “wellness” resort in the capital.
Plans for a five-story building with restaurant, café, pool and swim-up bar were approved by the Central Planning Authority earlier this year, pending approval from the Building Control Unit.
Mr. Wight said this week that initial site works had commenced and construction is expected to begin next year in anticipation of a late 2019 opening.
Almost every minister in government wielded a golden shovel for the official “groundbreaking” of Gran Palazzo, a US$200 million luxury condo development on the North Sound in February 2015.
Zoning had been changed and plans approved the previous year for 123 condos and town houses on the site close to the Holiday Inn.
Premier McLaughlin, announcing a package of stamp duty and planning fee concessions for the project worth around $4 million, hailed the investment as further evidence of Cayman’s economic recovery.
Little has been done to advance the project since then, however, with the developer mired in litigation.
A. L. Thompson Building Supplies, Green Valley Nursery and businessman Marcus Cumber all filed Grand Court proceedings against the developer in 2016, alleging he owed them money. Mr. Ebanks is understood to have contested the claims.
He has also been involved in his own litigation, filing suit against his former business partners at Waterfront Development alleging the wrongful transfer of his share in the company.
Where that leaves Gran Palazzo is unclear. Mr. Ebanks did not return calls from the Compass over the past week. It is understood that he does intend to proceed with some development on the site, however.
Initially met with some skepticism, Health City has become one of the development success stories of the Cayman Islands.
The hospital opened in 2014 and work on the surrounding infrastructure has been progressing steadily since then. A $17 million apartment and retail development is expected to be completed in early January.
Further phases of the development are expected to take the level of investment up to US$2 billion and include the expansion of the hospital into all specialties. A medical university is also planned in the long term.
Work on another apartment building, the same style and size as the one currently under construction, will begin in summer 2018, and a triage/trauma center is also planned for next year.
Developer Gene Thompson said design work would begin on a cancer center – the next major extension to the hospital. A tech park is also planned for the site, he said, with more details on that project coming in the new year.
A relatively low-cost development compared to some of the others on this list, the $3 million Cayman Eye project was proposed in 2014.
The proposal was for a 131-feet high Ferris wheel offering panoramic views of the island. Artist’s impressions were produced and it was being floated to potential investors.
No updates have been provided on the project since, however, though representatives for the development have consistently said they are still working on the project with the intent of making an announcement soon.
Asked for comment for this story, a spokesman said the project was still “very much on the cards.”
Among a number of potential projects being considered by the Dart group is a five-star hotel on Seven Mile Beach. The developer has never officially named the brand, but it was an open secret that Four Seasons was involved in discussions over a partnership.
The project appears to have stalled, however, with the requirement for an environmental impact assessment on Dart’s request to remove beach rock from the coastal waters fronting the property to create a sandy beach entry for hotel guests.
It has previously indicated that a different site, close to Royal Palms, could be used for the hotel development. A new planning application for an extension to the underpass on West Bay Road suggests Dart may now have reverted back to that site as the preferred location.
Dart has not yet indicated its plans for the old Hyatt hotel, the Beach Suites resort and the Britannia golf course, which it acquired last year.
Work is expected to begin next year on the new Foster’s Supermarket in Camana Bay and on 1 Nexus Way, the sister building, identical in design to the 18 Forum Lane office building, also in Camana Bay.