By James Whittaker, Pinnacle Media
Immediately hailed as a “new jewel” of Grand Cayman’s tourism industry, the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa opened for guests on Tuesday.
A traditional piece of Caymanian thatch rope was ceremonially cut to officially open the resort as a host of dignitaries gathered to mark the occasion.
The 266-room hotel has been four years in the making, with more than 900 people working on the construction project.
The first customers were checking in as invited guests toured the hotel, taking in views of its landscaped valley of palms and potted plants that descends from the elevated lobby to Seven Mile Beach.
Though the deal to move part of West Bay Road to accommodate the resort caused controversy, politicians on both sides on Tuesday hailed the distinctive look and the economic impact of the project.
Dart Real Estate President Jackie Doak said the developer had delivered its promise of an economic stimulus package that had brought major infrastructure improvements and a new hotel, and provided employment to many in the aftermath of the global recession.
She said there is more to come.
“The opening of the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and the commitment to invest another $400 million in new development, including a five-star hotel and a children’s resort, reflects Ken Dart’s confidence in the Cayman Islands,” she said.
“Mr. Dart is more than an investor. He is committed to the destination and will continue with the sustainable development of the Cayman Islands, supporting the ongoing success of the [islands] in tourism and financial services.”
She said the hotel makes a major statement with its design and decor, justifying the decision to demolish the old Courtyard Marriott and move part of West Bay Road to set the hotel well back from the beach, offering sweeping views of the ocean.
Steven Andre, general manager of the new hotel, said it was a “momentous day” for Kimpton and Cayman.
“Seafire is not only our first Caribbean property, it is our first foray into the luxury resort market and where better to do that than on the most amazing island in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman.”
Premier Alden McLaughlin predicted the hotel would be “another jewel in our tourism crown.”
“I cannot say enough about the impact of this $300 million project on the economy of the Cayman Islands,” he said. “Not only were local people and companies hired to build out the Seafire, but the hotel will also provide for long-term employment of a significant number of Caymanians and others for decades to come.
“I firmly believe it is because of the return of confidence in Cayman through the work done by this government that private sector businesses like Dart are investing in the Cayman Islands.”
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who signed the deal with Dart that facilitated the project, said it was his vision, despite opposition, including from the current government, that had set the project in motion. He said he had stood on Public Beach and “preached” to get the deal signed.
“I had to smile to myself at just how much I agreed with them [government] today, and I said ‘Pity they hadn’t agreed with me.’
“My government saw the need for the roads and these developments. I took the blows and paid a price, but not only do we have this resort, we had a vision for a Four Seasons too and I believe that is on its way.”
He added that Cayman should continue to support the Dart group and encourage them to aim higher and build 20- or 30-story hotels.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the opening of the hotel means an immediate 8 percent boost in Cayman’s room stock.
“That means more jobs at the airport, more taxis, more tour buses, more jobs in the restaurant sector, and it allows us to know our GDP is going to grow from the tourism sector involvement next year,” he said.
Mike DeFrino, CEO of Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, described the resort as the first foray into the international market for the San Francisco-based hotel chain.
He said it was Kimpton’s first venture in the luxury market and the first hotel of its kind in Cayman for more than a decade.
“It is an incredible place for people to stay and experience Grand Cayman,” he said.
[Photo Credit: Cayman Compass]