Members of the Verdant Isle group behind the proposed $200 million cruise port project shared some of the details of the plan during a whirlwind series of meetings in Grand Cayman this week.
Led by Royal Caribbean CEO Michael Bayley, the delegation which included executives from Carnival Cruise Lines and other partners in the consortium, met with tour operators, taxi drivers and government as well as the Protect our Future youth group, among others.
Verdant Isle members shared some preliminary designs of the new port during their visit and promised more detailed drawings would be released within the next few days. The group said they would release as much information as possible in advance of the people-initiated referendum, expected to take place late this year or early in 2020.
The outline designs, shown above superimposed on an aerial image of the George Town harbour, indicate the location of the planned piers.
The north pier stretches 432 metres (1,417 feet) into the harbour, with the south pier spanning 272 metres (892 feet). Verdant Isle representatives said the design moved the piers into deeper water to allow for less dredging. Preliminary work for a new phase of the environmental impact assessment is under way to assess how those design changes alter the anticipated effects of the project, which include removal of some harbour reefs and wrecks, and potential impact on adjacent coral reefs.
The group re-emphasised its aim, revealed in the Cayman Compass last week, to bring 2.5 million passengers to the islands and claimed the new facility would ensure the influx of new tourists could be managed in an orderly fashion.
Royal Caribbean CEO Bayley said the group aimed to be transparent and present as much information as possible to the public.
He said they were prepared to talk to all sides and he believes they can “work with the community” to ensure people are happy with the finished product.
“We sense there are all kinds of different opinions and emotions and we need to go through that journey of communicating. That is our plan,” he said.
“We are interested in dialogue and talking about the project. We hope people will understand the benefits and we can move ahead with it,” he added.
This week, they have met with government members, tour operators, other tourism partners, the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, Cayman Islands Tourism Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Protect our Future Cayman and members of the media, among others.
“We have heard a lot of different opinions,” said Bayley.
“Hopefully, we can work through those together and come up with a future plan that is going to make everybody happy.”
He said Verdant Isle was working with a team of scientists to minimise the impact of the dredging and to relocate a lot of the coral that will be removed from the harbour. He said the new design reduced the footprint, but accepted that there was no way to avoid some impact.
He said there was always a trade-off when major developments were considered.
“As I walked along the beach this morning, I looked at all the development along Seven Mile Beach. There is a huge condo building going up, a huge multi-storey hotel and apartments and many other projects. There is environmental impact.
“It is true that building the pier in George Town will bring environmental impact, our focus is on minimisation of that impact. We are cognisant of it, we are concerned about it, we are getting a lot of feedback on this and we are working closely with the Department of Environment. We have a lot of expertise in our project teams in terms of environmental management and we are working though this to minimise any impact, just as the hotel on Seven Mile Beach is doing.”
He denied that Verdant Isle would make significant profits from the venture, saying the group was responsible for funding the $200 million project up front, paying off their own borrowing costs and an anticipated $75 million in maintenance expenses over the 25-year operation.
He said the cruise lines want piers in Grand Cayman because it helps their primary business of “selling great vacations” but he denied that the port itself would be a major “profit centre” for the group.
He said it would not lose money on the project and insisted that it was accurate that government would not lose out either. While he accepts that government will take a $2.32 reduction in the per passenger head tax to help pay back Verdant Isle – just over $4 million at current arrival numbers – he said this would be offset by the additional revenue from an influx of new passengers.
“The revenue per guest decreases slightly but the overall revenue to the government increases because of the increase in volume of cruise tourists coming to the port,” he said.
- This story was altered from the original version to reflect the fact that a planned meeting between Verdant Isle and the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman group did not take place.