Dart’s projected growth both locally and internationally will benefit the Cayman Islands, as it remains the company’s base, says CEO Mark VanDevelde. He is optimistic that public-private partnerships can play an important role in ensuring Cayman’s smooth return to economic prosperity.
Dart CEO Mark VanDevelde expects Cayman to be part of, and to benefit from, the continuation of the global recovery predicted for 2014. The company’s own activities will also contribute.
“Dart continues to grow locally, regionally and internationally. This is an overall benefit to the Cayman Islands as this is the base for all of our activities,” he says.
In Cayman, 18 Forum Lane, a mixed-use space of retail and corporate offices under construction at Camana Bay, is the main focus of activity in early 2014. Manpower on the construction site will peak in July 2014 with 116 workers on site, and the building will be ready for occupancy by early February 2015.
The market’s response to this building has been strong, with a letter of intent signed by an anchor tenant, according to Dart. Plans are also under way for another commercial building when 18 Forum Lane is finished.
Construction of the Kimpton hotel in Grand Cayman, a 266 key hotel with 61 residential units, will see peak activity in late 2014 and provide 345 jobs. The hotel is scheduled to open in time for the 2016 high season, when Dart will be actively entering the tourism space.
This year, Dart will partner with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants to develop new tourism marketing initiatives for 2014 and beyond to promote and bring awareness to both the Kimpton hotel and the Cayman Islands as a destination, VanDevelde says.
These efforts began in 2013 when Dart Realty independently hosted eight visiting journalists and also partnered with the Department of Tourism on its Visiting Journalists program.
Another project started last year, the renovation of the Cayman Islands Yacht Club, which included new docks and infrastructure, a convenience store and a gas station, will be completed in the first quarter of this year.
In terms of residential homes, Dart is moving ahead with plans to submit a planning application for 101 townhouses at Camana Bay adjacent to the amenities of the Town Center.
Regional and international investments
In addition, Dart is very active outside of the Cayman Islands. In January, Cameron Graham, CEO of DECCO Ltd., participated in the groundbreaking at The Shore Club in Turks and Caicos Islands, a project expected to stimulate the TCI economy and create 250 jobs as construction gets under way.
In the Bahamas, Dart recently completed renovations of a 13,500-square-foot mixed-use office and retail building in the historic and culturally sensitive area of Bay Street in Nassau. The building, purchased in 2010, is part of the revitalized cruise tourism waterfront experience there.
Dart also recently acquired real estate holdings in the U.K. and U.S. in order to further diversify the company’s portfolio of investments internationally.
VanDevelde says even these overseas investments will benefit the Cayman Islands. “As our investments grow here and overseas, so too will the Cayman office, reinforcing our confidence in the Cayman Islands and further demonstrating our commitment to the country.”
This growth was confirmed last year when Dart hired 62 new employees, including 33 Caymanians and nine legal or permanent residents. It brings the total number of Dart employees to 294 as of January 2014. Based on the company’s anticipated growth, the number of new employees will continue to increase in 2014, says VanDevelde.
“We pride ourselves on being one of the largest private sector employers of Caymanians, and our hiring, career development and retention strategies continue to focus on maintaining this approach,” he says.
Despite the fact that the government has blocked plans for the remediation of the George Town Landfill and a new waste management facility on land provided by Dart in the district of Bodden Town by Midland Acres, VanDevelde remains optimistic about the company’s relationship with the government.
“The new administration faced significant issues immediately after the elections: financial and economic; infrastructure; and pending business and environmental legislation. In less than a year, it has demonstrated fiscal prudence; started the process under the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility for the new cruise ship pier, vital if downtown George Town is to experience the economic resurgence the country needs; and proved they are willing to listen and compromise, even on the controversial issues, such as the National Conservation Law.”
VanDevelde says he continues to believe that by engaging in collaborative and productive dialogue with the business community and key stakeholders and working with them to develop achievable and sustainable solutions, the government can accomplish a great deal.
“Broadening the frame of reference and having an inclusive collaborative, consultation process with the community/stakeholders often helps clarify both the intended and unintended impacts of decisions,” he says.
The biggest question mark for Dart, of course, hangs over the George Town landfill, located close to Camana Bay. Government indicated that it would initiate a request for proposal process early this year to collect, once again, possible solutions for Cayman’s waste issues.
“With regards to the George Town Landfill, we are hopeful that a sustainable and affordable solution will soon be identified and implemented,” says VanDevelde. “It is still our belief that Cayman’s environment, community, economy and tourism sector would all benefit from the closure, capping and remediation of the current dump.”
Tourism is another area important area for Dart. VanDevelde notes that improvements of the arrival and departure experience are “a great opportunity for a quick win.”
He says, “it is unfortunate” how many visitors do not return because of their entry or exit experiences at Owen Roberts International Airport or the cruise port, after Cayman invested heavily to attract them here on vacation or for business. But he commends the government for attempting to rectify the issue.
“Here again, we have seen the government act quickly to make some initial improvements which have had an immediate, positive impact on the visitor experience.”
As airlift continues to grow, the overall experience needs to be improved rapidly, he notes.
VanDevelde says despite the reasons for optimism, one needs to be realistic about Cayman’s fiscal situation. “It is a reality that our government simply does not have the financial resources needed to fund every business, economic, social or environmental initiative which we need as a country.”
It is therefore incumbent on the business community to act not just for today or the next five years, but for the long term. Public-private partnerships are one way the business community can become involved to the benefit of the people of the Cayman Islands.
“There is little doubt that public-private partnerships can play an important role in ensuring that Cayman’s return to economic prosperity is a smooth one,” VanDevelde says.
He names Dart’s Growing Communities as an example of a private-public partnership that was established in response to a need for open spaces in the districts where families and community organizations can come together. “Parks provide communities with opportunities to enrich the quality of life – children can play, students take field trips, community activities and sporting events can be staged.”
Although the agreement called for Dart’s participation to end years ago, Dart continues to voluntarily maintain the parks, while government retains all ownership, oversight and management of them.
“We do more than simply base our business here. We, the business community, need to continue working together to provide meaningful training and development opportunities for Caymanians; to ensure that the Cayman Islands can recreate and sustain a strong, resilient economy; provide its people with a good quality of life; that our youth have the opportunity to achieve their full potential through education, sports, cultural and civic activities; and that the social organizations which make up our community’s fabric are strong, results oriented and focused on creating opportunities for Caymanians to succeed.”
VanDevelde says Dart chooses to do business in the Cayman Islands because “we believe that the long-term future for Cayman is bright” and he is confident the group will not only continue to grow, but also continue to support social and community initiatives.