By Candy Evans, Second Shelters
You know Seven Mile Beach, yes? Probably the most famous and glorious beach in the western hemisphere, it is a long crescent of coral-sand perfection on the western end of Grand Cayman. Seven Mile Beach has been named “The Caribbean’s Best Beach” by the revered Travel and Leisure. Others think it is one of the best beaches in the world. It is public property (as are all beaches in the Cayman Islands) and you are free to walk the full length of the beach, which is actually 6.3 miles, regardless of where you are staying or how small your hedge fund is. There are a few residences along this famous beach, with condos built in the 1980’s starting at about half a million. The homes, as you can just imagine, are in the multi-million range. But nothing much new in the way of residential or hospitality has been built along this beach in more than ten years.
That is, until now. Dart Realty, one of the largest developers in the Cayman Islands, proudly unveils its newest property: the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, the boutique hotel brand’s first Caribbean property, and The Residences at Seafire. There will be a total of 265 rooms, including the private wholly owned homes.
“On behalf of Ken Dart and Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd., we are excited to announce that we have begun the one-year countdown to the opening of Grand Cayman’s first luxury resort in more than a decade, the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, and our for-sale residential offering, The Residences at Seafire, situated on the award-winning Seven Mile Beach,” said Mark VanDevelde, CEO of DRCL.
The Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, and The Residences at Seafire, both reflect founder Ken Dart’s vision of creating places where both visitors and residents want to gather, spend time and be inspired by the beauty of Cayman’s natural environment, says VanDevelde.
It is also another testament to Dart’s commitment to help grow the local island economy as well as create new employment opportunities. The property topped out in August, and the design team is now focusing attention on the build-out of the interior spaces. The resort and residences are on schedule for opening in November, 2016. The Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa, and The Residences at Seafire, will add the first residential dimension to a developer renowned for thoughtful design approaches encompassing sustainability, advanced recycling efforts, and the most energy efficient structures. Dart Realty is an investment, development and management company with more than one million square feet of built assets including the uber master-planned, mixed-use development of Camana Bay, featuring more than 700,000 square feet of developed grounds including courtyards, gardens, event spaces, sports fields, car parks, roads and a helipad.
FROM CUPS TO CRESTS
Dart Realty is the real estate empire of Ken Dart, the Michigan heir to the famous polystyrene cup company. Dart famously renounced his U.S. citizenship in the mid ’90s, packed up his family AND tax attorney, moved lock, stock and barrel to the Caribbean. One of three sons of the late founder of the Mason, Michigan-based Dart Container Corp., Ken even stepped down as President of the cup company last year. Once a billionaire bond investor, he began reinventing himself as the Cayman Islands’ biggest real estate owner and player the moment he moved to paradise:
In a rare glimpse into Dart’s holdings, Mark VanDevelde, chief executive of the tycoon’s Cayman-based Dart Enterprises holding company (also a fellow Michigander), recently told Bloomberg that Dart is less interested in distressed foreign debt these days, increasingly turning his focus to luxury real-estate development on the Cayman Islands and elsewhere, especially in Latin America.
Distressed debt “is a small part of our overall portfolio,” said VanDevelde. “We had demand for office tenants so that’s where growth has been since conception. We’re now shifting our focus towards resorts and residential.”
Dart’s mid-1990s move to the Caribbean, far from his family’s Michigan-based polystyrene cup business, was widely criticized as a brazen tax dodge. Today, he’s often seen strolling the grounds of his upscale Camana Bay which includes a residential development, a marina and town center with offices that cater largely to hedge funds and other financial companies.
Bloomberg added that a five-star Four Seasons hotel may soon complement the development, but that was speculative on the writer’s part. No matter what all is there, everything will be linked by a network of bike paths.
If Dart’s move was criticized as a tax dodge, others say he was just getting away to a less complicated world that was healthier for his family, a world he truly wants to preserve and protect with his immense wealth. A world he would like to make available to others, as well.
A funny thing happened on the way to paradise: the recession. Dart’s projects and presence actually helped Grand Cayman weather the Great Recession of 2008. The Hedge Fund business in Cayman is as legitimate as it is infamous, a legal tax haven like the Bahamas where the wealthy from across the world can execute more efficient tax and investment strategies for their money and grow it. Think of it as a giant medical center for money. The industry has actually been mushrooming since 2000, but contracted on this island during the recession, curtailing local jobs. According to Bloomberg, “assets under management of some 10,000 hedge funds registered on the island dropped by almost half from $3.4 trillion, according to Anthony Travers, the chairman of the Cayman Islands Stock Exchange. In 2009, the local economy contracted 7 percent.”
Ken Dart made Grand Cayman the headquarters of his global investment business, managing a fortune estimated at $5 billion. With that came the financial advisors, lawyers, CPA’s, bankers, administrators and recruiters and people to manage those people. Other companies followed suit. Dart first built Camana Bay in the heart of Grand Cayman. The $700 million mixed-use project stretches over 500 acres walking distance from Seven Mile Beach to the tranquil North Sound. Camana Bay opened in December 2007, and quickly became a poster child for New Urbanism in the Caribbean.
In fact, the original design team included Santa Monica-based Moore Ruble Yudell, a firm with more than 200 awards under its belt, with master planning by the famous Duany Plater Zybek of Seaside, Alys Beach, and Rosemary Beach fame.
Camana Bay is where Dart placed his headquarters. Phase I, 544,000 square feet of mixed-use, including class A office space and apartments, was completed in 2013, and almost fully leased. Retail space is underway, some 200,000 square feet, much of it spoken for. 18 Forum Lane, opening next week, is 85,000 square feet with another new structure coming in at 86,000. Both are slated for mixed-use commercial. Current tenants include EY (formerly Ernst & Young), BNY Mellon, Citco, Aon, Grant Thornton, State Street, & London & Amsterdam Trust Company.
BUT THE RESIDENTIAL IS WHAT WE HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR!
On a trip to Grand Cayman last November, I was amazed — shocked even — at the sophistication and beauty that Dart had created at Camana Bay. It is as if a billionaire created his perfect world with a brush stroke — that would be Camana Bay. The work-play-life model has been fully integrated so children can not only walk to school, they can see their parents during the day. Think of the best possible beach paradise, this is it — al fresco dining every evening at wonderful restaurants, wine tasting, a marina so close by you can take your boat out for lunch, and the world’s finest snorkeling every afternoon. Melissa Ladley, in Dart’s Realty department, has been known to occasionally hop a boat to work.
You don’t need a chill pill in this atmosphere, you just need a snorkel, mask and flippers and maybe some sunscreen. As for safety, you could sleep on the beach and your Black card would never be touched.
That is why Camana Bay is quickly becoming the preferred Caribbean playground for millionaires and billionaires like Richard Branson, Anna Kournikova, or Paul Allen who “cuts through the local waters from time to time in his 414-foot yacht, complete with helicopter and submarine.”
In 2008, Dart bought an abandoned and closed Marriott Courtyard, and set to work expanding the thin public beach. They closed a road in front of the future hotel, put in a proper parking lot and a playground for children. Looking to forge a partnership with a great hotelier, they chose Kimpton Hotel and restaurants to operate the first Kimpton resort and residences in the Caribbean.
“We are excited to partner with Kimpton Hotel and Restaurants, renowned in the travel industry for bringing the boutique hotel experience to America, on their first Caribbean resort,” stated Jackie Doak, COO of Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd. “This announcement reflects a two-year collaboration on the essence of the resort, its design and how it is experienced by guests and residents.”
The property will be named Seafire, exuding Kimpton’s stylish, playful brand — the hotel properties are known for having wine and snacks flowing for guests, as well as a whimsical touch, such as offering you a guppy for the night if you had to leave your pet at home. The Seafire theme will also inspire and infuse much of the hotel’s interior design, activation of outdoor spaces, and transition from day to night.
Situated on the resort’s 12-acre site, The Residences at Seafire is also Dart Realty’s first for-sale Seven Mile Beach property as it includes 62 luxury residences in an elegant, 10-story building adjacent to the hotel. So you will get the best of both worlds: the privacy of a luxury residence and exclusive owners’ rooftop lounge along with access to the best-in-class amenities offered at the resort, including two ocean view pools, six bars and restaurants, a signature spa, distinctively landscaped gardens and a coastal walking and biking trail.
Oh yes, and views: individual condominiums will offer sweeping views of the resort grounds and Seven Mile Beach, and those facing the North Sound will have views equally as compelling as those that overlook the beach and Caribbean Sea.
You can get in for under a million for a smaller property, with the largest, most elegant penthouses going for close to $8 million. This is the Caribbean, after all. There are no property taxes in Grand Cayman, but rather a one-time 7.5% title transfer fee. Property choices will be across the size spectrum: studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom floorplans with generous terraces, some of which have convertible walls for flexible indoor/outdoor living.
“With stunning and sophisticated design, its prime Seven Mile Beach location and thoughtful consideration of every aspect of the guest and residential experience, The Residences at Seafire introduce a modern Caribbean aesthetic to luxury living, where interior spaces unfold dramatically to abundant gardens and resort amenities infused with the spirit of Kimpton’s Caribbean debut hotel,” Doak said. “In keeping with our Dart philosophy of design excellence, The Residences at Seafire will offer a perfect balance of sand, sea and sun combined with every amenity imaginable for families seeking the exceptional Caribbean living all inspired by our shareholder Ken Dart’s own experience with his young family when they first visited the island more than 20 years ago,” she added.
The vision for Camana Bay is to grow a thoughtfully designed, vibrant and enduring town in the heart of Grand Cayman, stretching sea to sea from Seven Mile Beach to the North Sound.
“We focused on the core community-building developments of the school and Town Centre first, which helped establish Camana Bay as a civic and social center of the island, Doak told the World Property Report’s Michael Gerrity. “Now, more than 1,000 people live and work in Camana Bay every day, and we’re carefully considering our next phase of residential development.”
That phase is here and happening, staying true to Ken Dart’s vision of a world class waterfront town, defined by walkability, abundant open spaces and a lasting spirit of community. I cannot think of a better place to build a legacy family vacation compound than Grand Cayman, where average sales prices of $550,000 will soon be history.