October 1, 2023

“Final” Port Plans

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Displaying nearly 130,000 square feet of new retail space, a “final concept” design of the George Town port suggests that downtown merchants could face severe threats from the development.

A rendering by Aecom, the multi-national design and environmental firm employed by port developer China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), appears based on early-November proposals from the Beijing-based infrastructure giant, but offers further details of the development.

Government representatives cautioned yesterday that designs were still evolving and were likely to shift as modifications were suggested in the wake of environmental and financial studies, and as planners brought greater precision to bear.

Aecom created the “official” document in December, just after CHEC hired the company for more detailed development. The Chinese presented the design to its Cayman Islands government client between six weeks and eight weeks ago.

The drawing proposes a two-pier cruise berth and Cayman’s first two-storey dock, abutting a mega-yacht marina and a set of smaller slips for tenders moving passengers from cruise ships forced by space constraints to anchor in the harbour.

Passengers docking at the twin piers will disembark on the second storey of the dock, moving past restaurants, a hotel, crew accommodations and other facilities, descending a series of ramps to the ground-level transportation hub, detailed by small green arrows on the plan.

A grey zone designated in grey, likely to be an enormous retail area, has sparked concerns from the business community about their survival.

“As you will see, our fears are justified and very real. Pay close attention to the size of this plan relative to the size of George Town,” Noel March, owner of downtown Edmar’s Discount Drugs, said yesterday.

Mr March will submit to government this week nearly 30 signatures on a letter from George Town merchants lamenting the damage the port plans are likely to have on downtown commercial life, fearing outlets face extinction, turning the area into “a ghost town”.

Viewing the Aecom plans, Mr March yesterday expressed further alarm.

“Not to mention that it is [on] two levels! Acres of unnecessary dredging will completely wipe out current snorkelling reefs that lie in the area to the north of the Royal Watler. The classic George Town waterfront views [will be] gone forever,” he said, worrying about “depreciation of current George Town real estate and of course, tens of thousands of square feet of unnecessary retail that will remove any benefit that we as merchants hope to derive from berthing.”

Acknowledging similarities with the early-November plans, Mr March nonetheless observed yesterday “that people don’t comprehend the elevation on this thing,” anticipating not just the two-level pier, but the 13-story cruise ships and concrete pavement extending from Rackam’s, past Casa Nova, Hammerheads and the Fish Market to the North Terminal, and extending well into George Town Harbour.

“Dart might be able to compete with this,” one designer said of the retail plans, “but no one else will. Bye-bye Kirkconnell’s.”

The ‘final concept plan’ remains, however, subject to changes, only indicative of design, and still inaccurate in some respects
Fort Street, for example, crosses North Church Street and empties into the hotel driveway, ignoring Fort George, preserved by law.

Green arrows indicate pedestrian routes in the area of Panton Street, Cardinal Avenue and Harbour Drive, but do not indicate if roads are closed to vehicles or how traffic might circulate.

The plans also indicate dredging up to the shoreline, threatening massive wave damage from storms.

Widely employed by designers, “concept plans” indicate the elements of the design, their general locations and distances among them, but remain inexact, pending modelling of their effects – and recommended changes.

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