(CNS): The government has issued a request for proposal from financial experts to help it find a way to pay for the costly and controversial cruise berthing project in George Town Harbour. The Ministry of Tourism is looking for consultants to help create a financial formula and prepare the tender documents for the project following the re-working of the plans by design consultants to put the piers in deeper water.
“With that process now well advanced, information is being developed to better estimate the cost of the piers, which is an important part of the next phase of the project,” said Chief Officer Stran Bodden, who is overseeing the development of the proposed facility.
The RFP, which was issued on 5 December, is seeking to attract consultants for the commercial, financial and legal aspects associated with the project, who have experience with cruise line companies and development. The ministry wants them to come up with a model for the entire project, and interested consultants would need to be pre-qualified by tomorrow lunchtime when the documentation will be sent out to them. Their bids are expected to be submitted to officials in January.
A Design-Build-Finance model in a public-private partnership agreement is one of the financing frameworks being considered. “What this essentially means is that financing for the project could be obtained or provided by the appointed contractor and would generally include all of the development costs from construction through to completion,” said Bodden.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell was confident that repositioning the piers in deeper water will minimise dredging and reduce the impact on the environment.
“While we await the official confirmation and full details of the redesigned plans, the decision has been taken to move ahead with other aspects of the project. The ministry has been working to an aggressive timeline since the business case was approved by Cabinet in October 2013 and we are keen to maintain that positive forward momentum,” he said.
Suggesting the controversial project would be a “national asset” owned by the people, he said various financial models must be considered to achieve value for money.
Bodden added,“Once the civil engineering design works are fully completed and a detailed estimate of the cost to construct the piers is known, the ministry will be in a better position to negotiate the best possible financing framework with cruise lines.”
But as government presses ahead with the project there are many people who believe it will be the opposite of a national asset. The projected was rejected three to one against during the public consultation process.
Kirkconnell has stated that this administration will not allow any upland retail development alongside the berthing facilities and government hopes to finance the project entirely through cruise line passenger fees and redirecting tender fees, avoiding any direct liability to the public purse.
It remains unclear, however, how the cruise lines feel about that idea, as it would mean a significant increase in the tax in order to pay for what could cost anything from $150-300 million. In an article in the travel press following the release of the consultants RFP, Roger Frizzell, Carnival’s chief communications officer, said that cruise line “remains open, as always, to playing a role in these types of activities as a partner in the community”.
The minister has cited the refusal of the cruise lines to include Cayman as a port of call for the new generation of mega-ships as the motivating factor for the development, which has raised very significant environmental concerns.
As the battle to protect Cayman’s threatened but exceptionally valuable marine environment gets increasingly difficult, many believe the loss of reefs and the impact on the underwater and potentially coastal habitat in and around George Town is far too high a price to pay to ensure more business for taxi and tour operators as well as a limited number of waterfront retailers.
The issue of the cruise lines opting to keep Cayman off the port of calls is a choice, as the giant ships, like all others, can still be tendered. Carnival has included Cayman in the schedule of it latest and biggest ever ship, the Carnival Vista, which carries close to 4,000 passengers. The ship will sail into George Town on 29 December.