Plans for upgrades to Public Beach, including volleyball and beach soccer courts, as well as huts for beach vendors and designated spots for food trucks, were approved this week.
Government hopes the new infrastructure, funded by the Dart group as part of the National Roads Authority agreement, will help control commercial activity that has become a persistent problem at the island’s main tourist attraction.
The plans also involve additional landscaping around a grassy area for campers, close to the existing children’s park.
The Public Lands Commission will manage the revamped attraction which includes 16 slots close to the carpark for vendors of deck chairs, crafts and snorkel gear, among others.
Speaking before the Central Planning Authority on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Officer of the Ministry of Planning Tristan Hydes said the plans would help deal with a number of issues, including vendors taking over the beach’s public cabanas for their stalls.
Concerns were also raised by the public and the planning board about the chaotic nature of the commercial activity at the site, including hundreds of deck chairs covering the beach.
Mr. Hydes said the new huts for vendors would confine them to a designated area.
“We have had lots of complaints that vendors have taken over the cabanas and that is the reason these little stalls are so important,” he said.
He added that vendors who rent deck chairs would likely be required to remove their chairs from the site each night.
He accepted this would be an inconvenience but said part of the aim was to restrict the number of chairs at the site, which was getting out of control.
“There are God knows how many chairs down there,” he said. “It is too many and we want to limit that.”
He said the ultimate responsibility for policies and procedures around the use of the beach lay with the Public Lands Commission.
Rupert Vasquez, chairman of the commission, attended the CPA meeting as a visitor, but answered some questions from the board.
He said the commission could potentially have someone on site to ensure vendors complied with restrictions.
Government’s policy limits commercial vendors at the site to 16. Many of the existing vendors have been grandfathered in to the new system but it is envisaged that a requests for proposals process will occur as slots open up.
Mr. Vasquez said the commission was concerned by complaints about vendors, including that some were telling members of the public they would have to rent chairs or move on.
Under the new system, he said the Public Lands Commission had the authority to sanction vendors who did not play by the rules.
“There are a number of vendors moving to and fro and it is impinging on the general public entertainment value,” he added.
The commission will meet next week to discuss management policies for the site among other issues, he said.
Ken Hydes, Dart’s vice president of projects and community development, said the work, which will be carried out by Dart, was designed to create an improved public beach.
The volleyball courts will move further inshore, creating more beach space close to the ocean. A raised berm will create natural seating around the sports courts for tournaments. New restroom facilities will also be added as part of the plans.
Mr. Hydes said the project represented a good case of private/public partnership to improve one of Cayman’s key attractions.
“It is also a really good opportunity for the PLC to get to grips with something that is of national concern,” he added.
Residents at the Harbour Heights development close to the public beach were among the first to raise concerns about unlicensed vendors in the area.
Bob Loverd was at the Central Planning Authority meeting Wednesday representing the Harbour Heights strata.
He said he had previously described the area as the “wild west” but was encouraged to see government and the planning board getting to grips with the issue. He hopes the management of the site will prove to be a blueprint for Cayman to deal with similar concerns elsewhere.
“We have this huge test tube here in terms of what goes on in this space,” he said. “The public beach is so big and so important to the island that it can’t be ignored. The policies and standards articulated through this project could have a really positive influence on what happens across the island.”