He’s the man behind many of the most prestigious condominium developments fronting this prized stretch of sand. One could say he has defined the built environment on this beach: the Mandalay, the Meridian, Coralstone Club, Casa Caribe and 14 others are Brian Butler developments. Each one groundbreaking for its time, his focus on exceptional design and quality construction has ensured a loyal and satisfied clientele. Testament to how desirable a Butler property is, his latest project, a ten-storey luxury tower at the southern end of the beach, sold out in just three weeks.
So what drives this developer? And what does the future hold?
Brian Butler’s Cayman story began 44 years ago on Halloween night 1977, when he and his wife arrived on Grand Cayman, having decided to relocate to an island they had never even seen.
Butler’s brother was already on the island, busy working on his own project: Tarqynn Manor. Butler had purchased one of the units two years previously and, charmed by the stories of island life, decided to leave British Columbia behind and see what potential this quiet tropical island held.
He could not have known then that 30 years later, following a devastating hurricane, he would pull down Tarqynn Manor and, in its place, build something much more significant and grander: The Renaissance. Nor did he know that he was setting the future course for development on Seven Mile Beach in doing so.
Property, Butler says, is in his blood. Generations of Butlers have been involved in the real estate business. Growing up, they would have to roll up the plans that were spread out on the table when they wanted to have dinner.
His career in real estate started in Victoria, Canada, where he worked as a realtor and also went into construction, building single-family homes, subdivisions and apartment complexes. So when he arrived in Cayman and saw not only the potential but also the entrepreneurial spirit that existed, it was inevitable he would continue in the same industry.
“As soon as I arrived,” he says, “I researched every registered owner of every parcel of land on Seven Mile Beach.” That search led to the purchase of a piece of land on which he developed his first condo complex: The Christopher Columbus.
The Anchorage, Plantation Village and Casa Caribe quickly followed. As consumer demand evolved, so did his developments. Low-density developments gave way to increasingly tall buildings, built with prime materials and offering ever-increasing amenities. His latest project will feature walls of glass to provide floor-to-ceiling panoramic vistas, and a spectacular rooftop terrace.
Perhaps part of Brian Butler’s consistent success is that he has stuck to what he knows – and that is Seven Mile Beach condos. He has not been tempted to develop other types of property or land elsewhere on the island. In his view, Seven Mile Beach will always be in demand, and the lack of inventory there keeps the market strong. Values on the beach will never fall off a cliff, he says, whereas the market for townhouses or properties further inland is more limited and values more sensitive.
His only forays away from Seven Mile were on an equally sensational beach: Grace Bay, in Turks and Caicos. The Tuscany and the Venetian are the top-ranking luxury resorts on Providenciales, according to Trip Advisor. But whether he will pursue further projects there remains to be seen. There is only so much time in the day, he points out, and the logistics of getting back and forth make it more complex. But he hasn’t ruled anything out.
There are, of course, those who would say there is no room for further development on Seven Mile Beach. Butler disagrees. “The land alongside the beach has been almost completely developed,” he concedes. “But that doesn’t mean there is no room for opportunity, only that development moving forward will take on a different structure.”
Most of the condos on the beach are now dated, he points out. They have low ceilings, small windows, no lifts – it’s not what buyers want anymore. For owners, it means rising maintenance costs and lower rental incomes – because you can’t charge that much for a 1970s style condo with floral print furniture, he says.
Redeveloping – or recycling, as he likes to call it – these older properties is the way forward. While the low-density model has its appeal, building higher and creating more units on the same piece of land means existing owners get a new property, while the additional units ensure the financing works too. It’s a model he applied first to the aptly named Renaissance, then the Beachcomber and the Meridian, and now Aqua Bay.
An added bonus of the recycling model is that it has the potential to improve the environmental impact of beachfront development.
“The new building codes require a far greater setback between the coastline and the building structure,” he says. “If we could redevelop some of the problematic sites along the beach, we could use ‘recycling’ to combat erosion issues rather than contribute to it.”
Butler, more than anyone, knows what it takes to be a successful property developer.
“Property development is incredibly complex, and you have to be involved in every aspect – the design, the construction, the finances and the sales,” he says. “You have to figure out how the different pieces of the puzzle fit together and work a deal.”
“I’m grateful I started out as a home builder,” he adds. “In the early days, I would be on site every day, physically directing concrete, working construction. I learned all the components, and that’s given me a really good edge, a trained eye so that I’m able to walk onto a site and immediately see what’s wrong.”
On the day we speak, he is planning to go down to the site of Seacrest to inspect the floor coverings that are being installed, to look at the progress of the landscaping and to ‘check a couple of other things are being done right’. There is no detail that escapes this man’s watchful eye.
“Details are everything in property development,” he says. “Lose sight of the details, and you could make a terrible mistake.” With so many components and so many details to keep track of, property development inevitably becomes all-consuming. It’s been a wild ride for the past 40 odd years for Butler. But with his daughter Michelle and son-in-law David now taking an active role in new developments, the decision was made to form a new entity, Butler Group Ltd. He is handing the baton to the next generation to continue the business. He will remain an active consultant, but with more free time to pursue his other great passions: travel and sailing.
How does it feel to look down the beach and see the fruits of one’s labour in concrete form, I wonder? There’s a definite sense of accomplishment – a sense of good, honest work, done well, he says. But perhaps the greatest reward is knowing that, through his developments, he has enabled so many happy holidays in Cayman and created memories that families around the world will treasure for years to come.