Outline bids from five different groups seeking to build Cayman’s new cruise and cargo dock are currently being assessed as the project inches toward the start line.
The Central Tenders Committee will meet on May 9 to draw up a shortlist for a final round of bidding.
The deadline for those detailed final submissions is July, with a contract expected to be awarded in September.
The current estimated cost of the piers planned for George Town harbor is still $180 million, as per the initial Outline Business Case for the project, according to Ministry of Tourism officials.
However, the ongoing bid process will ultimately determine the final price tag.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has insisted the process carries no financial risk to government because the bidders are being asked to pay for the piers themselves, in return for a share of the profits they generate.
“The financial modelling formula (Design, Build, Finance, Maintain) will essentially be structured so that the bidder finances the construction of the piers in return for a share of the annual revenue collected per passenger,” the ministry said in response to questions from the Cayman Compass this week.
Currently, a charge of approximately US$20 is levied on all arriving cruise passengers in Grand Cayman, a mix of port and government taxes and a separate fee for the tender boat operators.
Based on an estimate of two million cruise passengers per year, the winning bidder could expect to pull in US$40 million per year in direct revenue over the course of a 20-25 year contract. However, government would need to retain a significant amount of that tax revenue and the exact formula for how that income would be divided is understood to be a pivotal part of the bid process.
The planning process for the project has been long and complex. PwC first produced an outline business case in 2013, refining that document in 2015 to include data from a separate environmental impact assessment. Mr. Kirkconnell told business leaders at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday that further work to lessen the environmental impact of the piers had pushed the time line back further.
But, he said, the coalition government was committed to delivering a cruise and cargo port in one project and was now entering the endgame in the bidding process.
“The research that has been done and the business case that has been done supports the proposal,” he said.
The bid process itself has been long and involved. Officials told the Compass that nine consortiums passed an initial pre-qualification stage and were invited to submit outline bids on the project. Five submitted bids by the deadline and those are in the process of being evaluated by the project steering committee, which will make recommendations to the Central Tenders Committee ahead of its May meeting.
Though the identity of several of the bidders has been circulated in the community, ministry officials say those consortiums will not be named officially until the process is complete and a winning bidder selected.
Despite some criticism over perceived lack of transparency in the project, the ministry insisted, in response to questions from the Compass, that the process, though slow, had been handled according to international standards.
“While it is a lengthy, methodical and complex process, we believe in its efficacy and are satisfied that by taking this approach, we are doing everything possible to deliver a world-class and affordable cruise berthing facility that will be owned by the people of the Cayman Islands,” it said in a statement.