“I want to see buildings’ heights move to 50 stories, even if only for one building, for tourism, residential and commercial businesses to make a mark in the region, so that the wealthiest among the wealthy will work, shop and live there … This can bring a new economy – so that the vagaries of the metropolitan and powerful countries do not threaten our existence and the future for our children can remain sustainable.”
– House Speaker McKeeva Bush
Skyscrapers on Grand Cayman? Back away from the ledge, and break out the smelling salts – envisioning future progress is not for the faint of heart.
House Speaker McKeeva Bush’s articulation of support for taller development has provoked predictable gasps from the usual segments of Cayman Islands society. And while we admit that at this point in time it is difficult to imagine one or more 50-story buildings gracing Seven Mile Beach, it’s certainly not unimaginable, and it would be a mistake to dismiss the idea on its face without farsighted contemplation.
It was not that long ago that some people were gasping at the idea of the “towering” seven-story Ritz-Carlton, or the nine-story WaterColours, or the twin 10-story Kimpton buildings – each of which, in turn, was supposedly going to obliterate Cayman’s charm and character.
Today those projects are familiar landmarks and substantial contributors to our country’s wealth. Our islands’ charm and character? Safe and secure.
Of course, a generation ago, few could have predicted 10-story buildings sprouting up along the beach, or the array of hotel projects currently in the works that are enumerated in today’s front-page story.
Developments (physical and societal) that seem inconceivable yesterday rapidly become normalized tomorrow.
In his long career as an elected leader, Mr. Bush has made many forward-looking policy statements (i.e., on immigration, tourism, healthcare, the economy, etc.) that were initially opposed or denigrated by some, but eventually came to pass – many of them sooner than later, and most for better not worse.
The very boldness of Mr. Bush’s approach is, at the very least, the correct posture for our leaders to assume. Although his eyes are on the sky, Mr. Bush’s reasoning is well-grounded.
He said, “We must offer something different. We are limited in space except for in the air. Why not go as high as we can go, and we will be saving land.”
In other words, there are two ways to build: horizontally or vertically. As Mr. Bush points out, Cayman’s small landmass makes for tight quarters, particularly in the narrow and densely developed Seven Mile Beach corridor.
As we have written before, Cayman’s public sector bureaucracy (and civil service payroll) is too large and costly for our current population to fund. In the absence of significant cuts to government spending (less imaginable than a Seven Mile skyscraper), our country must create new revenue through both population and economic growth.
Within the prime area of Seven Mile Beach, which is already crowded with commercial buildings, developers should be given free rein to explore projects to meet demand from the marketplace. If there is demand for taller structures, then in our opinion, height is just one consideration when determining whether a project would, on balance, benefit our country.
Like so many others, we, too, cherish nostalgic memories of Cayman’s past, but preventing the next generation of new construction is not going to bring that past back to life.
At the opening of the Kimpton in November 2016, Mr. Bush proposed allowing 30-story buildings in Cayman. His 30-story idea was met with a similar reaction to his new 50-story idea. Our perspective, too, is basically unchanged.
As we wrote in an editorial at the time, “for clarity, the Compass is not advocating either for or against Mr. Bush’s proposal. Think of us as still on the Ground Floor …”
This newspaper is prepared to offer suitable space to publish the views of those supporting Mr. Bush’s bold proposal – as well as those who hold contrary opinions.