Investing in Cayman's Future

Looking back at 2019, sustainability has been a common theme around the world, from global issues like climate change and immigration, to more local issues like the rate of physical development and traffic congestion.

“Sustainability underpins everything we do. We are committed to Cayman and its sustainable future. At Dart, we are directing our attention and resources to creating exceptional opportunities, places and experiences that enrich lives now and for future generations,” said Mark VanDevelde, CEO of Dart Enterprises, Cayman’s largest investor and private employer. 

Dating back more than 15 years ago when the vision for Camana Bay was taking shape, it was envisioned as a master-planned, walkable, mixed-use community; one distinguished by its thoughtful design and use of renewable energy. Camana Bay was to become a place where people would gather and linger, a place with inviting open spaces and shaded gardens; a lively waterfront town renowned for its attention to landscape design and its extensive use of native trees and plants.

“While that vision remains, the plan for Camana Bay has evolved many times to reflect changing conditions and to incorporate new information,” said VanDevelde. “We believe in staying true to the original vision while regularly updating the plan to incorporate lessons learned, new innovation and adapt to market demand.”

After years of planning and a groundbreaking in April 2005, Camana Bay opened in November 2007. Part of that initial opening included a Class A office building at 62 Forum Lane, home to anchor tenants EY and Cayman National. In 2010, Camana Bay received the Governor’s Award for Design and Construction, and two of its commercial buildings have earned LEED Gold certification. Since then, several more Class A office buildings have opened, the most recent one being One Nexus Way which opened in 2017. 

In December, the Central Planning Authority approved a new Class A office building at Camana Bay, now under construction and scheduled for completion in 2021.

“We have experienced an unprecedented amount of leasing activity in 2019 at all our properties, from expansion of existing tenants to strong interest from new tenants and companies moving to the island. We anticipate the momentum will continue as pre-leasing of the new office building, 60 Nexus Way, has commenced and the interest is significant,” VanDevelde said.

Camana Bay, like the Cayman Islands, is experiencing significant growth. Almost 12 years after the town centre opened to the public, a new chapter in the town’s history began in 2019 with the groundbreaking of OLEA, Camana Bay’s first for-sale residential community. Situated on the southern part of the town, adjacent to Cayman International School, OLEA is a partnership with local developer NCB Group and offers a mix of 124 condominiums, townhomes and duplexes.

The vision for Camana Bay has always featured a thriving K-12 school and the school was the first building to open at Camana Bay. Since its inception, CIS has been managed and operated by the US-based International School Services.  August 2019 saw the opening of a new early childhood education centre at CIS; part of a planned phased expansion which will nearly triple the original size of the school, creating capacity for nearly 1,100 students.

The collaboration between ISS’s education experts and Dart’s design and construction teams produced a flourishing environment for CIS’ youngest students to learn and play both indoors and outdoors. VanDevelde noted an equally impressive expansion for the high school is set to open in August 2020.

Similarly, collaboration with the Foster family was at the core of the new 60,000 square feet, state of the art Foster’s supermarket which opened at the end of October 2019.

“Our very first conversations with Mr. David Foster about a purpose-built supermarket location at Camana Bay dated back to 2003. He introduced his family to Jim Lammers and me, wanting to ‘put faces to the names’ and learn more about our plans. Back then, even though Foster’s had just moved into its own location at the Strand, Mr. Foster recognised the strategic opportunity of eventually being at Camana Bay and encouraged his family to consider a long-term view,” said VanDevelde. “Mr. Foster was a visionary entrepreneur, someone who embraced excellence and innovation; a legacy which his family carries forward today and aligns well with Dart’s own values, culture and philosophy.”

VanDevelde observed that commitment to excellence and innovation in the newly opened flagship store. The Foster’s team incorporated more than a decade of energy management experience into the new supermarket. From solar energy to geothermal cooling, it took the latest, most advanced thinking in supermarket design and operations, and adapted it using its own on-the-ground experience in Cayman.

“I think Foster’s knocked it out of the park with the comprehensive nature of the supermarket. The prepared foods area is incredible. The florist area is fantastic. There’s a pharmacy and a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. They’ve added thousands of new items,” said the Dart CEO.”We always considered the school, cinema, restaurants, bookstore and a supermarket core pieces of infrastructure for the community, so we anticipate the new Foster’s will quickly become a cornerstone of our growing town.”

This year, Dart plans to continue its expansion with another residential offering, this time a new 10-storey, for-lease apartment building. This expansion is driven by the significant number of companies that headquarter in Camana Bay, along with the growing school population and the variety of amenities Camana Bay offers, where residents can walk to work, to the shops or to school, in an outdoor environment designed for the pedestrian.

Urban planners promote the mixed-use model as a sustainable one, highlighting its potential to reduce traffic congestion, the time saving convenience of co-locating shops and services, and the community it encourages where people can safely enjoy walking and being outside.

Hotels and infrastructure

Looking further into the future, Dart is in discussions with the Cayman Islands Government about its proposal for much taller buildings as a new element of Camana Bay. While a resort village to the west of the town centre was part of the original master plan, the infrastructure Dart put in place since provides new options for innovative, future-facing design. 

Dart holds the view that taller buildings set farther back from the shore and which include a hotel component are, in the longer term, more favourable types of development, as they preserve the land closest to the shore for a wider range of public uses and simultaneously create sustained economic activity that benefits the entire jurisdiction. 

Regardless of height, the resort village at Camana Bay is a prime location for a five-star hotel, an addition which could further enhance Cayman’s thriving stay over tourism economy and attract repeat visitors and investors.

As evidenced by Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, being part of a large international hotel group brings valuable benefits to the destination via the powerful marketing engines behind them.

InterContinental Hotels Group and the Marriott group are two global hospitality powerhouses, each promoting the Cayman Islands as part of the process of attracting guests to the Seafire and The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, respectively. Preliminary statistics reveal that the Cayman Islands welcomed 448,551 stayover visitors between January and November 2019, representing a 9.14 per cent growth over the same period of 2018 - a number that VanDevelde believes will necessitate further hospitality offerings in the future.

“In essence, our branded hotels add millions of dollars of destination marketing value to the country’s tourism budget. This promotional activity drives stay over visitation which benefits airlines, other accommodations, restaurants, retail, watersports and transportation providers to name a few,” VanDevelde said.

In 2018, Cayman’s hotels, including the largest resorts on Seven Mile Beach, contributed more than US$33M in government revenue through the accommodations tax alone. 

“There can be no question that hotels are powerful economic drivers – they create long term employment across a range of jobs for hundreds of people, hotels are large customers to local companies and, hotel guests become customers to other local businesses, artisans and attractions. Hotels offer amenities for residents and importantly, substantial monthly revenue for the Government for decades,” he added.

This long-term, sustained economic activity is one of the reasons Dart believes increasing building heights with a mandatory hotel component and deeper setbacks from the shore ought to be part of Cayman’s future. It makes effective use of the limited land and maintains the pedestrian-friendly scale, reducing the need for more cars.

Preliminary research indicates taller buildings can be engineered and built to address the typical risks of a hurricane, seismic activity, or fire. The fire suppression and alarm systems, as well as the fire egress systems, would be tailored for tall buildings. The concept would require new regulations and specialised training, both solvable problems should Cayman choose to pursue this path.    

“The concept of taller buildings is an evolution of what is currently permitted, and will certainly require appropriate due diligence, but just like Camana Bay 15 years ago or with any new idea, we believe it is worth approaching with an open, rational mind,” said VanDevelde.  

Dart plans to continue discussions with local stakeholders and the Government in the coming year and hopes increased building heights can be considered as part of the Plan Cayman initiative
currently underway.

No discussion on Cayman’s sustainable development would be complete without discussing infrastructure, especially waste management and transportation.

Despite the growth and modernisation of Grand Cayman, it is widely accepted that waste management has lagged decades behind. Recently, the Government expressed its vision for an integrated approach to solid waste management in the Cayman Islands, implemented through a public private partnership: a solution which prioritises waste reduction, reuse, recycling and recovery through a waste-to-energy facility over disposal, with the ultimate goal of decreasing the amount of waste going to the George Town Landfill by 95 per cent.

While talks between the Cayman Islands Government and the Decco Consortium as the preferred bidder for the country’s Integrated Solid Waste Management System are ongoing, the Government has allocated funds in the 2020/21 budget for capping and a technical closure of parts of the George Town Landfill and works are expected to begin early this year. Also expected to begin in 2020 is the Environmental Impact Assessment to consider the design and impact of the suggested facilities. 

“We are pleased to assist the Government as it works to address solid waste management on Grand Cayman and implement a new, sustainable waste management hierarchy,” he said. “In our view, the country’s next major infrastructure priorities will be how we manage waste-water and sewage, and how we design a ground transportation system to ensure both components can responsibly handle the forecast growth,” said the Dart CEO. “We are pleased to hear that Water Authority – Cayman has plans to expand the existing wastewater treatment plant and welcome the planned construction of an airport connector road to reduce congestion in the Industrial Park area.”

VanDevelde notes the expanded Esterley Tibbetts Highway built by Dart has all but alleviated the traffic congestion along the North South corridor between the Butterfield roundabout on the southern end past Camana Bay and all the way up to Batabano Road at the northern end.

“While expanding road capacity on the East-West axis of Grand Cayman is expected to help, we believe this is another area in which technology and innovation can point the way to more sustainable solutions,” VanDevelde said, pointing to initiatives piloted by Dart such as Camana Bikes, Better Commute (a car pooling initiative) and ZÜN as examples.

“At Dart, our team is testing new transportation models such as ZÜN, a mobile app enabled carsharing service launched in partnership with Mr. Craig Arch at Audi and encouraging our staff to carpool. We have also seen companies in Camana Bay utilizing the ZÜN fleet for their courier services, eliminating the need for a specific company car. ZÜN’s initial success resulted in the fleet size increasing by 50 per cent in 2019 and the team is looking forward to continued expansion of this programme this year.”

Education and community development

Last year, Dart’s staff started mapping its activities to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. So far, the company believes its activities support six of the SDGs. One area the company is particularly proud of its efforts to support is Goal 4, Quality Education. When discussing sustainability, education and empowering people plays a vital role in any country’s national plan. In Cayman, Dart has been investing in educational programmes for more than a decade.

“At Dart, we are committed to investing in education, particularly STEM education and providing academic scholarships to some of Cayman’s brightest young minds through our Minds Inspired and Dart Scholar programmes,” VanDevelde said.

Minds Inspired is designed to promote an interest in the STEM subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math by organising and facilitating seven different programmes each year – Junior and Senior Math Challenges, the SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Challenge, Minds Inspired Robotics for high school students, the National Robotics Team, the STEM Award for Teaching Excellence and the High School Student Awards for graduates demonstrating excellence in the
STEM subjects.

Dart’s CEO believes it is important to promote the STEM subjects to middle and high school students because these are core subjects which underpin the careers of the future.

“In partnership with other local companies like CUC, Health City, Digicel and Aurem Re, this year we organised Cayman’s first ever national robotics team comprised of 11 students from public and private schools. Two teachers and two chaperones traveled with the team to Dubai in October to compete in the First Global Tech Challenge. The 12 weeks of preparation, the trip and the competition were once in a lifetime experiences for some of our students.

“The presence of organisations like Health City and now TechCayman bodes well for local students, who now have much better exposure to the career opportunities available through applied science, technology and math,” said VanDevelde, himself a Certified Financial Analyst charterholder and robotics enthusiast. “In 2020, we plan to introduce a new Minds Inspired programme focused on design, engineering, estimating and construction to introduce children to the wide array of exciting careers in these areas.”

Dart Scholar is a scholarship programme designed to recognise and reward exceptional academic excellence in the STEM subjects. Dart provides each recipient with a four-year high school scholarship made up of tuition grants and various enrichment programmes. Each year, Dart Scholars access work experience and mentoring opportunities at Dart and go on educational trips as a group. Past enrichment programmes have included weeklong super camps at Ivy League institutions like Stanford and in the UK, at Oxford and Cambridge, as well as trips to the CERN in Switzerland.

“I’m quite confident the scholarship programme benefits the individual scholars. But longer term, it is also beneficial for the whole country. Dart Scholars are graduating and starting to come back home as young adults mentoring the next generation, not only of Dart Scholar and Minds Inspired students, but of local students in general,” said VanDevelde. “Imagine the benefits of this investment to the community when we see these Scholars achieving their full potential and taking up important roles in our society, but also proactively helping the next generation of students and promoting educational excellence.”

In 2019, Dart also committed financial and professional resources to support the launch of Inspire Cayman Training Ltd., a new vocational centre to support local workforce development.

“We certainly view local public education as a national priority and support its ongoing transformation into a system of academic, technical and vocational excellence allowing students to achieve their full potential and access the widest range of opportunities in their own country,” VanDevelde said.

The past year brought another first with the introduction of Dart Grants, a new programme of fixed grants to help well-run, registered non-profit organisations make an even bigger positive impact in the areas of education, youth development and the environment. Following a rigorous evaluation of more than 50 applications and with direct input from its staff, Dart awarded CI$250,000 to the inaugural nine Dart Grants recipients with the single $50,000 grant going to the Special Needs Foundation Cayman.

Other beneficiaries included the Alex Panton Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cayman’s Acts of Random Kindness, the Cayman Islands Sailing Club, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Literacy Is For Everyone, the Stingray Swim Club and the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. In addition to financial grants, Dart staff participate in volunteer opportunities and share their expertise in areas such as data protection, IT, marketing and strategic planning with the recipient organisations.

This past Christmas, Dart staff chose to donate 366 trees to the community, one for each day of 2020 leap year.

“This initiative fits with our company culture to cultivate trees and enhance public spaces for the community to enjoy,” VanDevelde noted, explaining that Dart has a history of land conservation, collaborating with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands to acquire and protect environmentally
sensitive land.

“The donated trees will be supplied from the Dart Nursery, which continues to play an important role in the cultivation and relocation of native species,” VanDevelde said.

While 366 trees could be seen as a significant number, VanDevelde recalled Dart’s largest plant donation to date coincided with the 2005 official opening of the Dart Family Park in South Sound.

“That day, Dart gifted 500 seedlings of ‘saltbush’ (Baccharis dioica) to the community, which is endangered in its native habitat,” he said. “Our nursery found one of the plants growing in Little Cayman and began to propagate it, helping to bring the species back to local prominence. Even today, saltbush grows outside the Dart headquarters.”

Moving forward

From its roots as a private investment management company to growing retail and hospitality portfolios, it can be said Dart is clearly more than a real estate developer. “We see ourselves as partners in Cayman’s sustainable future. Not everyone will always agree with the specific nature of the projects we propose and we are always open to feedback from our customers, employees, business partners and the wider community. Our intent in all we do is to support a thriving, prosperous Cayman now and in the future,” VanDevelde said. 

“Our group of companies and our team of talented, hardworking employees will continue to focus our collective attention and resources on creating exceptional opportunities, places and experiences that enrich lives now and for future generations.”

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This article appears in print in the January 2020 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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