A five-star skyscraper resort that is instantly recognisable all over the world would signal strength, attract visitors and potentially draw billionaire investors to Cayman, according to Justin Howe, executive vice president of Real Estate Development and Operations for Decco, Dart’s development arm.
The company used the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Forum conference on Wednesday to renew its case for the project and reveal some of the details the proposal could entail.
Talks between Dart and the government about plans to erect the Caribbean’s tallest building on Grand Cayman have been ongoing since February, when Premier Alden McLaughlin announced the proposal at the Cayman Economic Outlook conference. The premier stated at that conference that Dart would invest about $1.5 billion in the skyscraper and related infrastructure.
Since then, Dart has taken steps to turn what it dubs the ‘iconic tower’ from an idea into a plan. Howe said the company has been considering scale, location, mixed-use components, market demand, infrastructure, setbacks – the distance from a lot boundary to a development – and the legal requirements.
The development group has also looked at other iconic buildings around the world in Dubai, London, Monaco, New York and Singapore.
“We believe that the logical location for this tower is at Camana Bay. It has long been our intention to create a sea-to-sound connectivity where people can walk from Seven Mile Beach to the North Sound without crossing any major roads,” Howe said. “And the two underpasses are the literal foundation of this infrastructure.”
Because increased setbacks would be a requirement for any tall building that is higher than what is allowed under current regulations, the tower could be located to the east of West Bay Road, he said.
Howe said increased setbacks could be used as an advantage to create beautifully landscaped public spaces with a distinct identity.
Dart is also looking at what kind of amenities would make the building stand out. Howe mentioned the observation decks of the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building, the rooftop infinity pool of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, or the vertical gardens of the Oasis tower in Dubai as examples.
“We believe a building is iconic through design, not simply the height,” he said. “An iconic tower has the potential to be more than just a building. It can become a symbol of Cayman’s standing on the world stage.”
The need for taller buildings on Grand Cayman was also economic, as scarcity and demand were continuing to drive up land values on Seven Mile Beach to $400 per square foot, Howe said.
“With land being a scarce and finite resource with just 76 square miles in Cayman, our opportunity is to go and grow up, not out,” he added.
Current planning regulations restrict building heights in Cayman to a maximum of 10-storeys.
Dart sees the benefits of taller buildings, particularly in George Town and the Seven Mile Beach corridor as these are already zoned for high-density development. Tall buildings with smaller footprints would also reduce the impact of infrastructure developments, Howe said.
“With Plan Cayman already under way, it is time to have this conversation now,” he told conference attendees.
“Building heights could, of course, rise slowly and incrementally. Or we follow the example of our predecessors and do something bold and visionary,” he said.
The purpose of the tower would be to signal strength and to continue to attract visitors, especially high net worth visitors whose spending has “a disproportionately positive impact on the economy and government revenues”, Howe added.
A five-star hotel with residences would be a central component of the tower. Dart is considering a commercial part, like in some hotels in Miami or the Middle East, but it is more likely that the commercial element would remain in the Camana Bay town centre and the tower would be a “vertical resort”, he explained.
Howe said, “Hotels are the economic engines of the tourism industry. They drive direct and indirect economic impact and job creation for our community and dramatically more so at the luxury end of the market.”
Last year, the Dart-owned Kimpton Seafire and The Ritz-Carlton together generated more than $14 million in direct government revenue through the tourism accommodation tax alone. The resorts employ 1,500 people directly and thousands more in the associated industries food and beverage, water sports and transportation, he noted.
The entire tourism sector is generating nearly $1 billion annually in the economy.