The Dart group’s plans to extend the new West Bay Road underpass have been approved at the second attempt – paving the way for a five-star hotel project that could bridge the road.
The Central Planning Authority had initially rejected a bid by the developer to extend the underpass, saying it did not have enough information about the plans for the site.
But the CPA approved the 170-foot extension Wednesday after Dart Real Estate President Jackie Doak indicated it was needed for an imminent five-star hotel development.
At least part of the new hotel could be built directly on top of the underpass, which will be 576 feet long once complete.
Project manager Ray Howe said the tunnel was strong enough to accommodate buildings of up to three stories, but could be adapted to allow anything up to ten stories.
Dart has yet to apply for planning permission for the hotel, which would require a separate application, and Mr. Howe was speaking hypothetically about the options for the site.
Ms. Doak said a letter of intent had been agreed with a brand, understood to be the Four Seasons.
She said that could be signed once the underpass extension was approved, triggering a lengthy design and planning process for the resort. It is expected to take around five years to design and build the new hotel.
Ms. Doak said the expanded tunnel would allow Dart to set the property well back from the beach.
“If we built just on the beachside, it would really impact the open spaces that we have. We really like the Kimpton model … for people walking up and down the beach not to be overshadowed by a tall building.”
The hotel was planned, at one stage, for the site immediately north of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, but Ms. Doak said the impasse over Dart’s request to remove beach rock from the coastal waters in front of the site and the company’s purchase of the Royal Palms property had persuaded them to switch it to the southern end of Seven Mile Beach, on the site of the old Coral Caymanian property, next to the Royal Palms.
Fielding questions from the board, she said a bridge to the beach would not be sufficient for this type of hotel.
“The competitive set of hotels in the Cayman Islands are all beachfront and to achieve the rates that this hotel would need to be successful, it needs views of the beach and access to the beach.”
Specific plans for the hotel have not yet been drawn up.
The underpass, combined with another tunnel on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, will also help Dart achieve its long-held goal of providing pedestrian access through its properties from the North Sound to Seven Mile Beach.
Mr. Howe said they were built to accommodate buildings of between three and four stories. He said they could be developed, using crossbeams, to allow much taller buildings, subject to CPA approval.
“That structure isn’t sufficient to take 8 or 10 stories, but it is designed that you can build another structure over the top of it,” he said.
During the meeting, Dart officials also indicated they would agree to build an elevated sidewalk through the tunnel as well as assuring pedestrian access over the road in all directions.
Once complete, illumination inside the tunnel is designed to mirror external daylight conditions, Mr. Howe said.