New Development

Condos, Then and Now

st-charles-2-copyNorth Caicos condominiums past and present share a common dream.

By Jody Rathgeb

Historical Photo Courtesy Karen Preikschat

Recent visitors to North Caicos might have noticed a new look on the island and interest in a type of development that takes a turn away from North Caicos’ traditional communities. You might call it “condomania.” While Providenciales has been seeing a great deal of joint-ownership resorts for some time, it is only recently that condominium developers have made a big push on North Caicos. That push has set off a development boom that includes St. Charles on Horsestable Beach, Royal Reef Resort at Sandy Point and more projects in the works.

St. Charles, a project of TCI’s Belvedere Development Ltd., plans a total of 90 condominiums. The first of its residential unit buildings opened in 2006, along with a large pool, casual outdoor restaurant and a swim-up bar. The furnished units include terra cotta tile, marble counters, television, Bose sound systems and disappearing doors. Future buildings will form a horseshoe around the pool, with service buildings located behind the beachside resort.

Meanwhile, developers Frederick Paatz and Mark Hall are building Royal Reef Resort on the island’s northwest shore. The completed project will offer 160 condominiums and a 45-suite hotel built to the standards and amenities required for an international five-star designation. Marketing materials promise three restaurants, a spa and fitness center, shops, tennis courts and other luxury amenities.

dsc_0094-copyThese condominium resorts are just the beginning, too. Also planned are two more by Belvedere along Horsestable Beach, and the Fairmont Three Cays near Three Marys Cays, with an opening target of 2009.

The development on North Caicos, which has been seen as a natural next step across the island chain from Providenciales, has sent real estate prices soaring. Beachfront lots are rapidly disappearing, and as the condos rise and loom over once-deserted beaches, other forms of development and infrastructure support projects expand on the “condomania”:

• At Bellefield Landing, construction of a deep water harbour is under way. The government-sponsored project should be complete by summer 2007.

• Developers Jim Gillette and Dale Piergiovanni are creating the North Caicos Yacht Club and Marina near Sandy Point, across from Parrot Cay. The project features canal-front properties for private homes and commercial outlets, plus a full-service marina. Gillette and Piergiovanni have already created several subdivisions on North Caicos: Pumpkin Bluff, Seaside and Sandcastle Estates.

• Another government project is improvement of the North Caicos Airport runway and plans for a new terminal.

• Other support and infrastructure plans include new roads and repaving; progress on a long-planned causeway to Middle Caicos; a new community center that will double as a hurricane shelter; a fire station for two trucks designated for North Caicos; and the recent opening of a branch of TCI Bank Limited.

Condominiums, however, appear to be the major element of the island’s current building boom. Why condos, rather than private homes, boutique hotels or other types of development? Walter Gardiner, past board president of the Turks & Caicos Real Estate Association, notes that the developers are following market demand, and the current demand is for condos. And like the word “condominium,” the reasons begin with “C” — cost and convenience.

Gardiner says that as property prices climb, condominiums are attractive as a way for buyers to afford an island home. Resort condominium developments increase that attractiveness by allowing the buyers to make some income from their suites when they are not in residence. Also, the idea of being part of a place run by a management company allows for stress-free visits. “The condo is more carefree, because there’s someone to look after the place when you’re gone.”

As the developers give the market what it wants, he continues, there will be a spill-off effect for other parts of the tourist industry, such as restaurants, shops and tour companies. Eventually, the spill-off will once again boost residential development as those who started out in a condo may decide to build on their own.

Ironically, North Caicos’ “new” interest in condominiums is not really so new after all. In 1982, the island saw the opening of Ocean Beach Condominiums, a 10-unit complex, by Peter Preikschat — an event that predated even the condominiums of Providenciales. “Ocean Beach is the first built condominium in the Turks & Caicos,” Preikschat recently told his daughter Karen, who now manages the complex. “It wasn’t the first registered, but it was the first built.”

Preikschat visited North Caicos for the first time in 1978, not long after the island’s first hotel, the Prospect of Whitby, was opened by Peter Prouding in 1974. Preikschat soon bought land from the Prospect with the intent of building a condominium complex. His reasoning was a combination of the cost factors that still hold good today, plus a variation on the old saw, “There’s safety in numbers,” with the idea of owners being able to pool their resources for maintenance and security. As a builder in Canada, Preikschat had some experience with condominiums, but the concept was a new one for the Islands, and among the early struggles was the effort to get the place registered and bylaws put into place.

That was by no means the only difficulty. North Caicos in those years was a very different place from what it is today. As construction on Ocean Beach began in 1981:

• Preikschat had to run a cable from the Prospect’s generator to get power; Whitby was the last of North Caicos’ communities to receive its own generator.

• Communications were accomplished only by one of four radio phones, including the “bush phone” that was “like talking through a tunnel.” Karen Preikschat recalls speaking with friends in German because otherwise there was no privacy. Only collect calls could be made.

• It took one hour to travel between the site and the airport, because the roads “looked like the moon.”

• A small diesel concrete mixer and a hand-run block machine provided materials for building. No scaffolds existed on island, so Preikschat had his crew build some from wood.

• Ships coming to the Turks & Caicos shared cargo space with the Bahamas, giving the more developed country priority. It took Preikschat three months to get his first shipment of materials to North Caicos, and then he discovered the steel for the project had been lost overboard along the way. There was only one government barge between Provo and North Caicos, and Turks Air arrived just once a week. After the hotel was running, the Preikschats used an Indian freight canoe to get groceries and other goods from Provo.

barge-copyPeter Preikschat recalls that he lost 50 pounds during construction, but managed to get the first five buildings completed in 13 weeks’ time. Despite the fact that Preikschat, originally from Germany, was a Canadian, the project was a very local one. He relied on his foreman, Johnnie Misick, to handle all personnel matters, and hired local men who had the skills for tile, electrical and plumbing work. The learning curve of going “all local” went both ways. With such slim island resources, Preikschat had to learn a somewhat more improvisational way of building, and the local men were introduced to such new ideas as interior stairs and swimming pool construction.

Preikschat’s wife, Lois, and daughters Karen, Michelle and Veronica would take turns accompanying him on his trips to North Caicos, so that they could attend to his domestic needs and keep him free from having to think about laundry or cooking while plans and construction were underway. Left on their own otherwise, they learned to take advantage of local goings-on, such as impromptu music jams and dances at the schools, during their visits to the island.

The first guests arrived at Ocean Beach in 1982, and 1983 saw the hotel’s first official tourist season. Karen Preikschat, then 22, arrived to manage the place and has stayed ever since. Today, she marvels at how “easy” things seem to be for the developers of St. Charles and Royal Reef.

Those developers wouldn’t entirely agree. Indeed, the challenges they face mirror those of Peter Preikschat — primarily that of getting materials to North Caicos. It may no longer take three months to wait for a shipment, but until large ships can dock at Bellefield, developers must still cope with “tide too low” and other complications of the shippers. Indeed, what any Islander has had to cope with in daily life — no fuel on the island, maybe, or no butter or flour — is being shared by those who would create luxury spots offering reliable Internet service and fresh prosciutto on demand. When asked about their biggest challenges, Paatz, Gillette and Philip Misick, managing director of Belvedere, all replied that getting goods and materials to North Caicos is the biggest frustration.

That will most likely change when the deep water port on North Caicos is complete, but that challenge also binds past and present. And although North Caicos appears to have only recently gone “condo mondo,” on closer examination the island’s story is a circular one. Yesterday’s modest first condominium and today’s mega-buildings share a common dream of affordable, sustainable island living.

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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography ( created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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