Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dart Realty buy Courtyard Marriott Cayman Islands

In what is widely considered to be great news for Cayman Islands Real Estate Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd. announced Wednesday that it had purchased the 232-room Courtyard Marriott hotel from developer Stan Thomas and his companies. The hotel closed after sustaining damage from Hurricane Paloma in November 2008 and hasn't reopened. In addition to the hotel, the Dart Group acquired other properties in that area that were owned by Mr. Thomas, including the Cayman Islands Yacht Club and about 1,500 feet of Seven Mile Beach property. In the mid-2000s, Mr. Thomas paid some US$100 million to buy a patchwork of properties, which comprise about 300 acres. It was reported that he would develop a five-star resort that included an 18-hole golf course, a marina and residences. The economic downturn that began in late 2007 and the ensuing credit crunch crushed the plans for development. In late 2009, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Mr. Thomas and his company were experiencing severe economic difficulties. Dart Realty Managing Director Jim Lammers said there was an element of "land stewardship" that was discussed by the Dart Group when it considered the purchase, and the possible negative implications of having the properties get tied up in litigation for an extended period of time. In addition, Mr. Lammers said the properties were purchased "because we believe they hold great potential for development over the long term". However, Mr. Lammers stressed that the Dart Group would take time to decide how to develop the property, undertaking a thorough analysis first. "We'll use patience and a multi-disciplinary approach to make sure we do it right," he said. "We're lucky to have some patient capital and real long-term view on Cayman." Adding the newly purchased properties to adjacent landholdings already held by the Dart Group - including the Salt Creek development and the Camana Bay Nursery - amounts to more than 500 acres. Dart Realty's CEO Mark VanDevelde said the acquisition of the Thomas properties brings great opportunity as well as great responsibility to develop the lands with thought and care in a way that creates lasting value. Although the Dart Group will take time formulating a development plan, Mr. VanDevelde said some remedial work would start almost immediately to improve the Yacht Club marina, which has been in a dilapidated condition since it sustained significant damage during Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. "There are a lot of immediate steps we can take to improve it without significant capital outlay," he said. As for the hotel, Mr. Lammers said the general thought was that the Hurricane Paloma damage could be repaired and then the hotel reopened, although he couldn't give any timetable for reopening. "We're pretty comfortable it doesn't have to be razed," he said This article is shared from an original article in the Cayman Compass by Alan Markoff.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

USS Kittiwake Cayman's latest dive attraction

A decommissioned U.S. Navy ship was scuttled Wednesday in the clear Caribbean waters of the Cayman Islands, where officials say the sunken vessel will attract fish and tourists.
The USS Kittiwake, a 1945-vintage submarine rescue ship, rests on a sandy bottom off Grand Cayman's Seven Mile Beach. The 47-foot-tall (14-meter) ship is at a depth of 62 feet (19 meters), so the top deck is close to the Caribbean Sea's surface, making it easily accessible for snorkelers and divers.
Crews carefully flooded the rusty hulk so the 2,200-ton (1,995 metric ton) ship would settle upright. Holes were punched in the hull and large pumps gradually piped sea water into the ship, which was compartmentalized into three sections.
As it began to sink in a cascade of bubbles, the Kittiwake leaned a bit to its starboard side. But divers reported it landed upright on its keel.
"It was just perfect execution, nice and even. She landed exactly where she was supposed to," project manager Nancy Easterbrook said during a phone interview from a nearby boat on Seven Mile Beach.
The Kittiwake's scuttling raised mixed emotions in Jon Glatstein, who was a sailor on the vessel from 1984 to 1986. He traveled to this wealthy British Caribbean territory to watch his old ship sink beneath the waves.
"This is the first time I've seen the ship in 25 years, and she's in pretty rough shape. But she's been serving divers all her life and now she's going to continue doing just that. That's got to be a whole lot better than getting melted down for razor blades," said Glatstein, now an IT manager in Miami.
The ship, which assisted U.S. submarine operations around the globe for decades, was anchored in recent years among the rusting vessels of the James River Reserve Fleet, commonly known as the "Ghost Fleet," in Fort Eustis, Virginia. It was towed to the Cayman Islands last month.
About 40 boats carrying locals and tourists circled around the ship to watch it sink. Several parasailers enjoyed a birds-eye view under clear skies.
Officials had hoped to sink the ship Tuesday, but windy weather and choppy seas forced a postponement.
Divers will attach mooring lines to the ship on the seafloor Thursday, and the scuttled Kittiwake should be open to the public on Friday, according to Easterbrook.
Premier McKeeva Bush said the operation "represents the single most significant occurrence in a decade for Cayman's dive industry."
Besides being a lure for tourists, the Kittiwake will be an artificial reef that can shelter fish and crustaceans in waters known for excellent visibility and abundant sea life.
The Kittiwake joins the MV Captain Keith Tibbetts, a Russian frigate sunk off the coast of Cayman Brac in 1996 that is now decorated with a thick coating of sponges and corals.