It is easy to get carried away by the idea: That Dart Enterprises will propose constructing a tower that would far and away be the tallest structure on Grand Cayman.
But the operative word in Premier Alden McLaughlin’s announcement of the $1.5 billion proposal was not “tower.” It was “question.”
As the premier said, “I pose this as a series of questions the nation should consider: Do we want to continue with the approach of incremental change, or is now the time for us to think bigger and act more boldly when it comes to our land use and building heights?”
When given the option to think bigger and act more boldly, our instinct should always be yes.
In fact, this is the ideal time to discuss Cayman’s changing skyline – long before another golden shovel pierces the ground of another project, and before the cement sets on a new development plan (which, regrettably, has not been updated since 1997). Our island is growing too fast for our traditional laissez faire approach, which has left us with inconsistent density and usage, poor aesthetics and a transportation system groaning under the weight of traffic flows.
According to the government’s draft National Planning framework, Cayman’s population grew by 8,000 in just the last five years. Projects are continually being conceived and developed to accommodate new residents and the record-breaking throngs of tourists visiting our shores. Once unthinkable, 10-story buildings are now primary components of future development plans. Cayman should give serious consideration to adjusting height restrictions rather than rejecting Dart’s proposal out of hand simply because it is new.
There could be real benefits to allowing larger, taller developments along the already-developed and highly desirable Seven Mile Beach corridor. Greater density could alleviate pressure on our already overburdened roadways. It can be a more desirable alternative to continued suburban sprawl. And it cannot be denied that large development projects can yield large economic rewards. Last year, The Ritz-Carlton and Kimpton Seafire contributed more than $14 million in direct government revenues, as Dart Enterprises CEO Mark VanDevelde pointed out in a news release. Add to that the spending on payroll and services and secondary spending of the properties’ discerning visitors, and the benefits are easy to see.
In our view, the exact height of Grand Cayman’s densest development is less important than that it be worked into a larger, long-range comprehensive plan. At the same time, government should prioritize streamlining and standardizing the approval process to pave the way for new developments
Without more details (the number of stories, location and design, for starters), the Compass Editorial Board can take no specific position regarding Dart’s proposed mixed-use tower or the potential terms of the agreement.
But as we have repeatedly written, if Cayman hopes to continue funding our civil service obligations and sprawling public sector bureaucracy, our population and revenue sources must continue to grow.
It is no accident that with demand increasing and with land in such short supply here, developers increasingly are looking up.