The Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands has finally found a home.
The regulatory authority recently executed a 99-year lease on a property within eyesight of the runway at Owen Roberts International Airport, and it will build a purpose-built headquarters expected to open in the third quarter of 2019.
CAACI will pay approximately $2.4 million out of its own cash reserves to fund the new project, and the process began with a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday afternoon.
The existing building on site, the former headquarters of Cayman Airways, has not been in use since it was damaged in 2004’s Hurricane Ivan, and it will have to be demolished before the new CAACI headquarters can be built. Richard Smith, director-general of the aviation authority, took a few ceremonial swings of a sledgehammer Friday and said the new building will be the start of a new era.
“When we moved into our current offices in a commercial complex in Grand Harbour in February of 2005, it was intended to be a temporary move until a permanent solution could be determined,” said Mr. Smith on Friday. “We never thought temporary would be so long. However, that location has served us well. We have grown from a staff of 12 to our current compliment of 22 employees.”
When it came time to swing the sledgehammer, Mr. Smith jokingly invited all present and former employees of Cayman Airways to participate in the demolition.
“Our purpose here is two-fold: To memorialize the fallen Cayman Airways headquarters, and to celebrate a new beginning for the Civil Aviation Authority,” he said. “This building we are about to demolish holds many memories for a great number of current and former Cayman Airways employees.
“I imagine there are good memories and perhaps some not-so-good memories …. Sledgehammers are provided for you to participate in the demolition. It could be a whack for love or a whack for bad memories.”
Mr. Smith explained that the Civil Aviation Authority was restructured in June 2004, and the Cayman Islands Airports Authority acquired all real estate previously held by CAACI. Then came Hurricane Ivan in September of that year, setting the Civil Aviation Authority back in terms of acquiring new offices.
The Civil Aviation Authority, said Mr. Smith, has never received any funding from the government, and as a result of the Public Authorities Law of 2017, it had to use its cash resources or risk losing them.
“We’ve paid dividends to the government. We had a formula where each year we paid 75 percent of our net,” said Mr. Smith. “We retained 25 percent. It built up over the years to the point where we had fairly significant reserves. That all changed with the passing of the Public Authorities Law, because under that law, the amount of cash reserves you’re allowed to retain as an authority has been significantly reduced. We had to get approval from Cabinet to use the funds we had in place to support this building.”
The outlay will be significant, he said. CAACI has already paid a sum of $400,000 to execute the 99-year lease on the property, and its new headquarters building is expected to cost about $2 million.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said Friday that it was an easy project for the government to approve.
“It really warms my heart as premier to hear that we’re going to have another major piece of important infrastructure put in place and government doesn’t have to find the money to do it,” said Premier McLaughlin in his speech at the ceremony. “That’s an example I wish all authorities would follow. I’m happy to say that the Cayman Islands Airports Authority have, I think, set a very good precedent in that regard.”
Mr. McLaughlin went on to say that the government has two major pieces of infrastructure in the works – a cargo and cruise pier and a waste management facility – and that it hoped to finance important infrastructure projects without placing any strain on future Cayman administrations.
“The policy of my administration is to continue to pay down debt as far as possible and to fund as many of these infrastructure projects as we possibly can without having to borrow money,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “Over the course of these five years, we haven’t borrowed any long-term money.”