Premier reveals talks for Dart skyscraper

| 28/02/2019 | 282 Comments
Cayman News Service

Premier Alden McLaughlin at the CEO conference

(CNS): Premier Alden McLaughlin opened a new can of worms Thursday when he delivered his ‘state of the nation’ address at the Cayman Economic Outlook conference and called for a national discussion about drastically changing building height limits to accommodate a Dart proposal. He said that Dart Enterprises has asked government to consider allowing an “iconic tower” in Camana Bay that would be many stories taller than the current maximum allowed, suggesting it could become a national landmark.

In his address at the conference McLaughlin said, “I believe we must at least take a long, hard look at the potential for the kind of tower Dart is proposing… The potential economic benefits are considerable.”

After the premier’s speech Dart posted a media statement on its website about the proposal, suggesting it would “create a new skyline”. The company said it would invest another US$1.5 billion, supporting local economic growth and resilience in the face of a possible recession.

The Dart Group said it had approached government about the possibility of a tower to signal Cayman’s standing as a global centre of excellence and attract “ultra-high net worth individuals”.

This echoes comments made by House Speaker McKeeva Bush, the leader of the CDP, the PPM’s partner in the Unity Government, in his New Year’s message this year, when he said that government should allow at least one 50-storey building for the “wealthiest among the wealthy”, suggesting that the proposal was submitted to government by Dart some time ago.

In the release, Mark VanDevelde, CEO of Dart Enterprises, said that “discussions have been preliminary and no agreement is in place”. He said it would provide ongoing employment and be an economic engine for the government for decades.

“Dart welcomes the opportunity to partner with the Cayman Islands Government in creating an iconic building that would be recognised around the world as a symbol of our national identity,” the CEO said, adding that with limited land available on Seven Mile Beach, the ability to build upwards would provide new opportunities.

In his address at the conference, the premier said he expected the announcement would be highly controversial and ignite considerable debate.

“If so, good; that is my intention because this is a debate that the country needs to have,” he said. Increasing building heights was a way of meeting the growing demand for property development and pressure to go beyond the current maximum of 10 storeys.

“I pose this as a series of questions that we as a nation should now consider: do we want to continue with the approach of incremental change? Or is now the time for us to think bigger and act more boldly when it comes to our land use and building heights? If so, how high and where do we want future development to be allowed?” he asked, as he sought to trigger the debate.

The premier told the CEO audience that his government had already removed many of the constraints that had prevented innovative planning approaches in George Town and was willing to look further and remove other obstacles, such as restrictions on building heights.

He said the Seven Mile Beach corridor was another area where “there may be no obvious limit to building height in terms of what the market will bear”.

The question, he said, came down to what the community was willing to see happen, which would depend on the benefits any such development brings.

“[I]f we are to take bold steps then there must be clear and tangible benefits for Caymanians. If development is seen to be just about luxury hotels and accommodation for rich foreigners then our community will rightly reject it. If, on the other hand, it is not just seen to be, but actually is about, the delivery of improvements in infrastructure and in the economic and employment opportunities and the social conditions of Caymanians, then I believe this is a debate we should be willing to engage in,” the premier stated.

With proposals for a number of redevelopments along Seven Mile Beach of condos built in the 1970’s and 1980’s to new 10-storey luxury residences, he asked whether they should continue “gradually ratcheting up building heights”, with the result being just a higher wall of glass and concrete.

“The alternative is to be bold and look at something different: a more proactive approach that considers taller buildings and that conserves ever scarcer beach land on the important Seven Mile Beach strip; taller buildings but in particular hotel developments that generate much more income and economic activity for our islands than other types of development do; taller buildings that will require developers to give back more of the beach and to have farther setbacks, creating a large open space between the building and the beach.”

The premier appeared to look favourably on the idea, which he said would meet the needs of a different kind of tourist and a different kind of resident, and serve as “a much-needed buffer over the next few years when the inevitable next recession occurs”. Such a proposal would also bring forward infrastructure investment, such as road improvements, schools and affordable housing, the premier suggested.

“As a Caymanian, I am excited about the idea. As premier, I am determined that we engage positively with Dart and with any other developers who might want to bring forward such ideas to see what might be possible,” he said. “There is an awfully long way to go before such ideas might come to fruition but now is the time for a national debate. The Plan Cayman process gives us a timely and appropriate vehicle to have that national debate.”

McLaughlin stated that the next phase of consultation will be on an area plan for the Seven Mile Beach Corridor and the potential for a landmark development could be addressed as part of that consultation. He said that no commitment has been made about the Dart tower proposal but he made it clear he believes it should be considered.

Tall buildings are landmarks that, over time, become symbols of national pride and identity, the country’s leader stated. He pointed to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which is 2,722 feet, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which is a mere 1,063 feet. The current building height limit in Cayman is 130 feet.

“Before people start taking to social media to decry this idea, hear me out,” McLaughlin said. Noting that a proposal for any major development here would generate objections, he said that the Eiffel Tower was controversial in its day, but now, it “is not just part of the Paris skyline, it is the very symbol of the city itself.”

“Could we in Cayman imagine a similarly iconic structure here that would come not to threaten our cultural heritage but to reimagine it and to symbolise the bold future we want for our islands and our people?” the premier asked rhetorically.

See the premier’s full CEO address in the CNS Library

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Comments (282)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Oh nice. Will be somewhere to go when rising sea levels flood the rest of Cayman. Assuming hurricanes or earthquakes don’t get it first. Going to be an interesting engineering challenge for sure!

    • A says:

      Asia does just fine with Typhoons and earthquakes.

      • Anonymous says:

        Is that A short for “A$$hole”? Last few major earthquakes have rocked and destroyed parts of Indonesia and Japan (along with Tsunami’s). Philippines has not done well out of major typhoons recently (and they average 20 cyclones a year) nor Australia…. But you let your selective Dart/CIG approved memory carry on….

  2. Anonymous says:

    Let conclude this discussion here with one comment (in case you overlooked it) posted by Johnny Be Good 02/03/2019 at 1:23 pm

    “Don’t worry, the engineering cost will be prohibitive, even for Dart. Besides the geologic conditions are shaky at best so I’d really like to see a consultant risk his ass by signing off on the foundation alone.”

    He is 100% correct. All other comments are important, but the reality is no skyscraper would ever be built in Grand Cayman.

    • Anonymoous says:

      I’d love to conclude with that remark but you’re talking about the CIG and they don’t have brains in their heads.

      The CIG operates on the idea that the problems of tomorrow aren’t MY problems of today.

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe that would conclude the discussion if Dart and the CIG were really talking abut building a “skyscraper.” I was at the CEO conference. The Premier said nothing about a skyscraper – only an “iconic tower”. If that tower is only 20 storeys tall, then it’s quite possible from an engineering standpoint.

    • Anonymous says:

      Could this be just a scare tactic towards his current foes (Britannia) in suggesting he will build a skyscraper in their backyard? Whoooo.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Several facts about building a skyscraper (from The Sustainability of Tall Building Developments: A Conceptual Framework by Kheir Al-Kodmany 2018)

    Skyscrapers are costly buildings. They need stronger foundation and structural systems to withstand natural forces of wind, gravity, and earthquakes, and to resist severe weather conditions such as hurricanes.

    The geological structure of a place poses several implications for constructing tall. It is the safest to anchor a skyscraper’s foundation over a bedrock (a geological layer of solid rock), it is not always easily accessible.

    Design and construction mistakes could have a rippling effect that would result in prolonging the period of construction. Severe weather conditions and natural hazard events also impact and delay construction process of tall buildings, adding substantial costs.

    There are incidences where the construction of tall buildings started but was not completed due to financial hurdles, political pressure, and cultural opposition.

    Excavation for a skyscraper foundation can cause stability problems for the nearby buildings.

    They suffer from economic disadvantage of vertical construction systems (e.g., taller cranes, jumping cranes, “kangaroo cranes”, jumping boards, and hydraulic pistols). Pumping concrete to higher floors demands powerful pumps and special concrete that can travel long distances without stiffening too soon, resulting otherwise in clogging hoses.

    To ensure structural stability, tall buildings use dampers, (i.e., sophisticated, gigantic pendulum-like counterweights—weighing anywhere from 300 to 800 tons) and other movement-tempering devices. Structural engineers employ dampers to mitigate vibration impacts, caused by wind, storms, and earthquakes, by pulling a building’s mass in the opposite direction of the prevailing forces.

    Tall buildings face greater structural-stability risks. The sway problem becomes greater the taller the building. Overcoming sway problem in slender towers is acute, and therefore, an engineering solution is exceedingly costly.

    Skyscrapers also require expensive vertical transportation such as elevators and escalators, as well as enormous energy to pump water to upper floors.

    Post construction, elevators require close monitoring and maintenance. As such, building managers need to hire resident engineers who should be experienced in mechanical and electrical systems, IT networks, software, and programing languages. Furthermore, elevators may cause ear trauma (called “barotrauma” or “perilymph fistula”) due to the pressure difference arising from the change in altitude as passengers ascend and descend a great number of floors with high speed

    They consume substantial energy, often generated from fossil fuel sources. Alternatively, renewable energy means, such as photovoltaic cells, continue to be largely inefficient.

    They exert significant demand on infrastructure and transportation systems, creating overcrowding and traffic congestions.

    Tall buildings exert an adverse effect on the microclimate due to wind funneling and turbulence around their bases, causing discomfort to pedestrians. They cast a shadow on nearby buildings, streets, parks, and open spaces, and they may obstruct views, reduce access to natural light, and prevent natural ventilation.

    Further, skyscrapers require costly mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems to cool and heat interior spaces and to supply water. Skyscrapers feature glass envelopes to allow in greatest natural light. However, heating and cooling interior spaces of these buildings are costly particularly in places that experience extreme weather conditions.

    Financially, tall building developments could be a risky investment where developers bet on economic growth and overlook economic recession that results in massive vacancies in these buildings. Recent ultra-luxury tall building developments in the U.S. have been betting on the exceedingly wealthy people who form a small proportion of the world population. Owners of these buildings sell housing units for tens of millions of dollars. However, developers are bearing the risk of overshooting the mark.

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