Port businesses fear for future

Tenants at the Royal Watler cruise terminal will not be guaranteed first refusal rights for space in the proposed new port. - photo: Taneos Ramsay

Businesses at the port are concerned for their future after being turned down in their efforts to secure a “first refusal” agreement for space in the proposed new cruise terminal.

The board of the Port Authority rejected the request on the basis that it wants to keep its “options open” for the new port.

Members of the Royal Watler Tenants Association say they have struggled through lean times at the port and are seeking guarantees that they will be allowed to continue operating if and when the new dock is built.

In December 2015, the board granted “rights of first refusal“ to the tenants but reversed that decision in May 2016 based on legal advice from Ritch & Conolly, according to board minutes.

Kevin Doyle, chairman of the tenants association and director of the Green Parrot Bar and Grill at the cruise terminal, said the businesses had been encouraged to try to have those rights reinstated after recent public comments from government that the facility would have no additional upland development.

“When we heard government affirm that there would be no upland development and that retail redevelopment would not be increased in size, we were very, very relieved,” he said. “So, on the basis that the ownership of the proposed development would also be remaining in the hands of the government, the tenants felt confident that there was no longer any rationale or justification for government not to reinstate the tenants’ ‘rights of first refusal’ or not to re-establish and renew the tenants’ long–term lease agreements.”

He said these were Caymanian businesses that, in many cases, had been operating on the Royal Watler site for a decade or more.

Mr. Doyle added that many had struggled to stay afloat and several businesses had folded over the years due to reasons beyond their control, including periods of low arrival numbers.

Cruise arrivals, which hit around 1.9 million last year, dipped below 1.5 million in 2013.

Mr. Doyle said it was unreasonable of the board not to guarantee the tenants space in the new terminal, which government has claimed is likely to attract 2.3 million visitors annually.

He said, “All the tenants have asked for is to be granted some security of tenure, which all commercial tenants need in order that they can plan for the future of their businesses. It’s a very simple request and very easily granted.”

The majority of the tenants are currently on one-year leases amid uncertainty over when the port project will begin and what is going to happen to them.

Minutes for the board’s November 2018 meeting indicate the latest request from the tenants was refused.

Asked for more information, Joey Woods, the acting director of the port, stated, “The board wanted to keep its options open in the best interest of the Port Authority.”

Robert Hamaty of Tortuga Rum Company, the founder of the tenants association, of which he remains a member, said the authority had gone back on an agreement to the tenants.

“We were informed it was already approved,” he said, “then, they came back and said the attorneys had said they couldn’t do it.”

He said the situation was problematic for businesses on the dock.

“We have no security of tenure. The worst landlord to have is the Cayman Islands government,” he said.

Mr. Hamaty highlighted similar issues at the airport, where he said he had faced a battle to get tenants rights to operate in the new facility.

The airport businesses were eventually granted additional points in the open tender process for the upgraded terminal and were able to get space to continue operations.

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