When, after more than a decade of trying, Dragon Bay developer Michael Ryan purchased the 220 acres of the former Safe Haven land in mid 2007, the possibility of his 10-year vision for the area adjacent to his Ritz-Carlton property was finally realised. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull has an exclusive interview with Ryan to find out exactly what that plan looks like and reports.
When The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman first opened for business in late December 2005 the Cayman Islands awoke to the concept of a five-star resort for the very first time and all the benefits that such a property brings. But The Ritz-Carlton, as impressive and award-winning a property as it is for the jurisdiction, was just part of a much larger development plan.
Dragon Bay evolution
Ryan says once The Ritz-Carlton was firmly ensconced, the logical next step in the evolution of his Dragon Bay project (the title of a development that covers 360 acres of land and incorporates several separate islands) was to expand the vision to include residential areas created on a par with or exceeding the standards of excellence already achieved with the resort itself.
In order to gain sufficient inspiration for his new projects Ryan set sail with his family on a 130-foot sailboat to explore as many wondrous ports of call as he could fit into his year-long voyage, accumulating a vast wealth of knowledge and ideas along the way.
“Nowadays, thanks to the Internet my sailboat was in effect a virtual office, equipped with the latest technology available to ensure that I was fully abreast of operations while travelling,” he said.
The travels took them all around the world, from the Mediterranean to Singapore to Indonesia to the Maldives.
“I was looking to discover what worked and what did not in the great waterside communities. Dragon Bay’s main feature is the connection that each and every home has with the water. Properly understanding just how communities that are built around water function and adapt to life so close to the sea was extremely important for me to fully embrace and realise the concept here in the Cayman Islands,” Ryan states.
He looked to communities that he says “are truly connected to the water” such as those in Hydra, Penang, Malaysia and Singapore and gained an insight as to how and why such communities thrived, working cohesively and in partnership with the sea.
The relationship and context of the elements of each location was key. Those that worked had a sense of place, Ryan said, and revealed that he was searching for something that spoke to Cayman’s heritage and that would make sense here.
He explains: “The British colonial influence is seen all across the tropical belt of the world; areas that are similar to Cayman in climate and heritage. The rules and elements they laid down still makes sense, even in highly developed countries such as Singapore, which still retains its British colonial layout and maintains the sensibility through impressive buildings such as Raffles and the Fullerton Hotel. Seeing how they had successfully worked with many of the same elements present in Cayman it was logical for me to incorporate such timeless and classic influences into the design of the Dragon Bay developments. The idea is to allow for the central core to bring an order and sense of place but still leave room for the many cosmopolitan elements to express themselves.”
Bringing the influences home
Simply picking out the best bits of his travels and sticking them together into one big development was really not Ryan’s intention. Instead, he preferred to understand and appreciate the essence of what made each city, island and community that he visited work and emulate elements of the design, efficiency and quality in his own unique developments at Dragon Bay.
“It would have been ridiculous to try to emulate the colour and design of Italy’s coastal villages like Porto Fino, for example, and try and copy them here (they are poured down the side of a hill, after all). However, we can learn from what makes those properties work – the quality of craftsmanship, the light and airy space within the buildings and the concept of properties looking out over a marina, with residents entering via a waterway under a spectacular bridge (as with our Secret Harbour development),” Ryan states.
The concept of water linking the entire development is a binding feature of each new construction at Dragon Bay, yet Ryan has bigger plans, taking it further than simply part of the design of each property.
“When a Dragon Bay owner first arrives into the Cayman Islands they will be greeted at their own Customs and Immigration area at the airport. [Ryan was able to reach an agreement with the previous Government to build a Dragon Bay arrival terminal and dock]. Their transit from the airport will be via private launch across the North Sound directly to their own dock. Water will connect them with their property, the development and the rest of Cayman from the very outset” he says.
Out of the several islands that comprise Dragon Bay there is one completed and two more under construction. These properties are aimed at families that really understand and appreciate the heights of luxury, comfort and style. One island, The DeckHouses, is a collection of 19 individual estate homes set on their own private island in the centre of The Ritz-Carlton resort.
Ryan has already sold a good proportion of the DeckHouses, with the first phase complete, and he looks forward to breaking ground on phase two early this year.
Ryan says that on the next island, the Secret Harbour development is also going great guns, no doubt as a result of the unique designs and incredible value that is attracting many locals who want to enjoy all the project has to offer.
“I don’t have a rigid master vision for each and every island and property within,” Ryan wishes to clarify. “Rather, we are creating the central spine of the project that will give it both its architectural sense and, with The Ritz-Carlton resort, the base for services and amenities unlike any other. From there, with a baseline commitment to the highest quality in vision, design and execution in all elements we want to see the project grow organically through the input of the people who will live here and make it their home.”
A boutique hotel that is meant to sit atop one of the most prestigious resort properties of the world is in the planning stages, encompassing unique villas on stilts in the North Sound.
“The North Sound is an excellent location for such a hotel. The water is calm and the breezes will cool the villas, which will have amenities such as outdoor showers and private pools,” Ryan says. “This is something that has already been hugely successful in other parts of the globe such as the Maldives, Bali and the Seychelles and we believe Cayman is the rival to any of those locations and this will further expand our market at the very top end.”
Ryan says that the fact that he is committed to undertaking his Dragon Bay development shows that he has every faith that the Cayman Islands will weather the current economic crisis and gain critical mass in the next few years.
“Dragon Bay is a big statement to the people of the Cayman Islands,” he confirms. “We believe in Cayman’s potential and we continue to work with the government and the private sector to lift this destination above and beyond any of its competitors.”