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Travel: Eight Years On Seven Mile

Karen Cakebread

When Canadian developer Michael Ryan acquired the old Holiday Inn on Seven Mile Beach in 1997, along with an adjoining parcel that gave him 144 acres spanning the width of the island, he felt he had the ideal spot on Grand Cayman for a new Ritz-Carlton—one that would offer a residence program, which was a novel concept at the time.

 

Then came eight years of delays, beginning with three years of negotiations to appease local opposition and clear other red tape. A well-publicized labor dispute with the contractor followed, leading Ryan to assume control of the project’s construction. But the worst came in September 2004, when Hurricane Ivan slammed the islands. “Everything was finished except for bringing in the furniture,” says Ryan. “But the power was out for three months, so even though the structure was sound, we had to worry about mold. We decided to gut the whole building and start again.”

At the same time, Ryan was concerned about the plight of his neighbors, many of whom had lost their homes in the hurricane. “We had 1,000 people here [building the resort]—all this ability,” says Ryan. “It was great to be able to do something [to help]. So we started by fixing people’s roofs, and that was something I was even able to help with myself.” Ryan says he also chartered a Boeing 727 to bring food from Miami to the islanders, and his brother, John, sent daily food deliveries from Florida on his own planes, a King Air 300 and an Astra jet. Returning flights brought some mothers and children to Tampa, where John helped them find temporary residence until they could return to their homes.

Rebuilding commenced, and finally, in January 2006, the $500 million Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman celebrated its official opening with a gala splash—and no mold. For sport, it features a Greg Norman nine-hole golf course, scheduled to open May 15, and a Nick Bollettieri tennis center. Swiss spa company La Prairie operates Silver Rain, a 20,000-square-foot facility on the premises. Children can participate in an educational program called Ambassadors of the Environment, which environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and his Ocean Futures Society created. And anchoring the resort’s five dining options are two restaurants, Blue and Periwinkle, that are the first establishments outside New York to bear the name of Eric Ripert, of the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin. Ripert sees the endeavor as a combination of work and play, saying, “Blue is Le Bernardin by the beach.”

Although unused land is scarce on Seven Mile Beach, one still can invest in Caymanian real estate at the Ritz-Carlton. Half of the property’s 69 residences were sold before construction began, but several, including 7 South, a 20,000-square-foot unit priced at $44 million, are still available.

After delays created by permit and contract wranglings and a devastating hurricane, the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman finally has opened.

The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman
345.943.9000
www.ritzcarlton.com

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Photo by Janos Grapow