By Alan Markoff, Pinnacle Media
Despite uncertainly in the global economy, Camana Bay will see a dizzying amount of construction activity over the next several years.
In addition to ongoing major infrastructure projects in the area and the construction of a new Class A office building, Dart has plans to build even more office buildings at Camana Bay, expand the Cayman International School and develop a large shopping plaza with integrated residential units, as well as a residential tower.
Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd. CEO Mark VanDevelde spoke extensively about the company’s ambitious plans that continue the massive investment in Camana Bay, which already totals more than a billion dollars.
Camana Bay Office Space
Camana Bay, the mixed-use, master planned development that is the epicenter of the Dart Group’s investment on Grand Cayman, has thrived, particularly as a Class A office location. Many of the Cayman Islands’ top financial services industry firms now call Camana Bay home, and more are on the way.
In January, the 18 Forum Lane building – the Caribbean’s first LEED Gold-certified mixed-use commercial building – officially opened, with global accounting firm PwC as its anchor tenant. Within days of its opening, construction began on another Class A office building – which will also be LEED Gold-certified – next to 18 Forum Lane.
“I think every building we build from now on will have some LEED designation or will at least be the equivalent of a LEED designation,” said VanDevelde, adding that building to LEED’s environmentally conscious standards is becoming almost a requirement in places such as the United States. “Certainly we see the benefits in … the direct savings you get from lower power consumption and efficiencies [like in air conditioning costs]. So there’s some real reasons and benefits for that.
“Even if you can’t directly connect the savings to your efficiencies and energy savings, or faster absorption [of capital outlay] or higher rental rates [to tenants], you do have the bigger picture or image. If it’s a differentiator … in that someone is going to move to that building versus another building because they feel better about it, then in a broader context, we think that’s a good decision.”
Once the sister building to 18 Forum Lane is completed, scheduled for summer of 2017, Dart will turn its attention to two more Class A office buildings, one of which will house its own employees, which, as of mid-June 2016, numbered 661. Both of those buildings will be constructed on land that will become available once the Esterley Tibbetts Highway and the current roundabout at Camana Bay are moved westward.
The need for these two buildings has been determined by increased demand, including demand for space in 89 Nexus Way, where the Dart Group’s offices are, VanDevelde said.
“We’re getting pushed out of our building here,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nevertheless. We’ve had four tenants now that are going to be leasing our space here and three of the four weren’t on the island before, so they weren’t planned.”
As a result, those working for the Dart Group’s real estate and construction division will temporarily move to the second floor of the 18 Forum Lane building while the company designs and constructs a large building for the group’s employees, with growth expectations in mind.
“We have a number of tenants now for the [building under construction], so we think we’re already behind the ball in getting another building designed,” VanDevelde said. “So … we’ll be designing two [additional] buildings and a parking solution … that will take a year of design and two years of construction.”
Camana Bay Residential and Shopping
It was always intended that residential offerings would be a big part of Camana Bay, but so far the only residential opportunities have been the for-lease apartments on The Crescent called The Terraces.
That is about to change.
Within the next year, projects which include for-sale condominium units in two places will start construction in the northern part of Camana Bay, VanDevelde said.
One of the projects is a residential tower called 10 North, which will be built just north of the 94 Solaris Ave. building on the Crescent waterfront. The tower, which will be between seven and 10 stories, will offer two- and three-bedroom condominiums for sale, with in-building amenities like a fitness center and pool.
“10 North is likely to be the first delivered,” said VanDevelde, nothing that simultaneously, a large project to the west – referred to for identification purposes at this point as “The Big Box” – will get under way and will also include residential offers.
The Big Box will also include two of Camana Bay’s most important retail components – a supermarket and a home goods store, both owned by existing local merchants. Both of those stores will be larger than the stores the merchants currently operate, VanDevelde said.
Those large anchor stores will be surrounded by smaller retail and complementing commercial businesses, with a large parking lot in the middle. Above the smaller retail stores will be more for-sale condominiums called the Market Street Flats. These units will be mostly, if not entirely, studios and one-bedroom apartments.
VanDevelde said Dart Realty sees the Market Street Flats units as investment opportunities for corporate professionals working at Camana Bay, who could buy at a relatively low price point and know that even if they move away or upgrade their housing here, they would have a property that could appreciate in value.
“You’ve got this continuing growth of Camana Bay for decades to come, so you could see more and more people living here, more and more people working here as we continue to build out additional office space, and it’s really going to be in a prime location,” he said. “You go down the elevator and you’re right in town … right next to a supermarket, within walking distance of work or The Paseo, The Crescent, the beach, etc.”
More than two years ago, Dart announced it was proceeding with building 101 condominiums and townhouses south of the Nexus Way building and then completed the preliminary site work. But that project, referred to as “2A,” was put on hold because of uncertainty over what will happen with the George Town landfill.
That uncertainly affects potential buyers, VanDevelde said.
“The top one, two or three questions [from potential buyers] is ‘What are you doing with the landfill?’ and we say, ‘It’s out of our hands’ and we can’t give them a good answer,” he said. “If I were a buyer there as well, it would be a question I would ask, and even if I am a buyer and I believe it’s going to get resolved at some point in the future, I don’t know when. And from my perspective as a seller, I know it’s going to impact my ability to sell at a premium price because I just don’t have an answer to it.”
In addition to building The Big Box and 10 North developments, VanDevelde said the Dart Group intends to continue improving on the commercial businesses that add to Camana Bay’s quality of life. One project planned is a significant investment in upgrades at the cinema, which will include refitting one or more of the theaters with luxury, reclining-chair seating with cup holders, a bar right outside the doors, hot foods for sale, and a complete upgrade of the cinema’s audio and visual technology.
The upgrade is a way of the Dart Group “not resting on laurels,” VanDevelde said.
“We’re not doing it because competitively we need to do it,” he said. “It’s really a continuation and the furtherance of increasing and improving the quality of life on the island as you see those technological changes or advancements. It may not be that we run and do all of those, or we do them whole scale, but we always want to be seen as adding to the experience, adding to the quality that we’re offering.”
School and Recreation
Cayman International School at Camana Bay, which already serves more than 600 children, is likely to see “a massive expansion” that could increase its capacity to somewhere around 1,100 students, VanDevelde said.
“We’re in the third year of a three-year commitment to add some additional classrooms and the like this summer, but now we’re looking at something that might be much more expansive there, that could even see a doubling of the size of the school.”
In addition to the expansion of the school, VanDevelde said there is also a big focus on the quality of education. “We’re really pushing them to making it an extraordinary educational facility.”
Eventually, the students will also have access to more recreational facilities.
On the west side of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, close to the National Gallery, the Dart Group will build two soccer/football pitches and maybe even two five-a-side soccer/football courts, next to where it has donated land for the Cayman Islands Rugby Club’s new home.
A pedestrian underpass will be built as part of the widening of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway between Lawrence Boulevard and the Butterfield roundabout so the students of Cayman International School will be able to safely get to the other side of the highway. VanDevelde said the plan would be to allow the students to use the soccer pitches during and after school hours, and possibly have some public access at certain times as well.
VanDevelde said it had been hoped that the Esterley Tibbetts Highway widening project – which Dart is doing – was on schedule up to where the new Airport Connector Road roundabout will be built. However, getting the road built from there to the Butterfield roundabout will take longer than the year originally anticipated.
“It’s got to be gazetted because there’s some private property that it goes through,” he said. “Everything that we’re working on [right now] is on our property, so we can control that. The [National Roads Authority] approved the design, so we just get on with it.”
Even though the Esterley Tibbetts Highway was gazetted long ago, the widening project involves some differences in road width and shape than originally planned, so the government has to go back and gazette the changed design.
“They need to do that before we can actually work on it,” VanDevelde said. “That’s the only reason why [no work has been done on it]. And because we’ll be doing the works, we’ll go gang-busters on it as soon as they get the gazetting out of the way.”
Meanwhile, the relocation and widening of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway through Camana Bay is progressing on schedule. That relocation involves creating an underpass over which the Camana Bay Town Center can eventually expand, widening the highway to two lanes in both directions, and moving the Camana Bay roundabout north and west.
Originally, this massive infrastructure project was part of a larger plan that would have seen Dart build a five-star hotel near the beach, a plan that has since changed in favor of building that hotel north of the new Kimpton resort. Even though the idea of building a large hotel on the site was abandoned, at least for now, Dart decided it was a good decision to continue with the infrastructure project.
“Expanding [the Esterley Tibbetts Highway] to four lanes is going to be needed in the short term anyway,” VanDevelde said. “So then you’re looking at whether you would expand the existing road to four lanes, knowing that in the future you’d like to move it … that’s probably not the best money spend.”
By going ahead with the underpasses, Dart accomplishes its goal of having seamless pedestrian connectivity throughout Camana Bay, something that will have value from a future development perspective, VanDevelde said.
To get that connectivity all the way to the beach, Dart will still need to create an overpass over West Bay Road, something it still intends to do.
“We expect to submit something in the coming weeks,” VanDevelde said. “It’s pretty much designed. We were hoping to have it submitted [to the Central Planning Authority] the first of June. There’s a couple of things we still need to sort out, but it may be as early as July when we submit.”
Creating the underpasses that allow Camana Bay to have pedestrian connectivity across the whole development also creates elevation, which will not only allow for better views and more protection from storm surge in case of a hurricane, but also the opportunity for underground parking, something VanDevelde said would be increasingly valuable as the build-out of Camana Bay continues.
At some point, Dart will develop the beach front of Camana Bay, but the property was not right for the five-star hotel it was planning. Although VanDevelde said the unresolved landfill issue did play a role in the decision, other factors were bigger.
“It was more about land limitations,” he said, noting that the potential operators for the hotel wanted almost all of the beach for their property, something that, if granted, would have significantly limited the amount of meaningful beach access available for the broader Camana Bay residents.
Another infrastructure project that recently began with little fanfare is the building of a bridge from the Town Centre to the Festival Green. VanDevelde said the bridge was originally designed for the 101 condominiums project, and the decision was made to build the bridge now even though that condominium project was put on hold.
The bridge will replace the short dirt causeway that has been there and will accommodate vehicles as well as pedestrians. It will have a significant rise, enough to allow boats with 18-foot mast to pass underneath.
“It’s a piece of infrastructure that we’d already designed,” VanDevelde said, noting that as it was ultimately going to be needed in any case, the decision was made to just get it done. “It is an investment in the future now.”