|The Bahamas Investor Magazine
January 21, 2010
February 14, 2011
On the westernmost point of New Providence lies Lyford Cay–an exclusive gated community that boasts movie stars, international bankers and prominent politicians among its residents. The cay, brainchild of Canadian businessman Edward Plunkett (E P) Taylor, is a 1,000-acre site containing all the luxurious facilities the ultra-rich could possibly need, from a world-class marina to a clubhouse famed for its glamorous social calendar.
Taylor first visited The Bahamas in 1945 and was instantly enamoured by its tropical climate and beautiful scenery. Although the swampland to the west of Nassau was not an obvious spot for development, Taylor was determined to purchase the land and transform it into a large-scale, secure residential community for wealthier members of society who, like him, sought a taste of the sun-kissed lifestyle of The Bahamas.
He formed Lyford Cay Development Co in 1954 with this aim in mind and, through this new business venture, bought a 2,800-acre parcel of land on which the project could begin taking shape. In 1958, the 18-hole golf course was completed and, a year later, the Lyford Cay Club opened its doors to welcome those who had already snapped up the available lots. The Lyford Cay International School followed in 1960, increasing the area’s status as a well-established, self-sufficient community.
Owning a key to the cay
When Taylor first purchased the plot, he paid an initial sum of $16 million. According to the Lyford Cay Property Owners Association (POA), the community now has a total land value of more than $2 billion, with around 429 residences. The cay is set to grow further, with the POA currently in the process of acquiring a number of plots on its borders. If integrated into the area, these plots are expected to increase the size of the community by a total of 111 acres.
Those lucky enough to be in a position to afford property in Lyford should be prepared to pay anything from $1.5 million to $45 million. According to George Damianos, president of Lyford Cay Properties and Sotheby’s International Realty, the latter “will get you several acres on the beach.” But it’s not just proximity to the beach that drives the value; the features on offer in these types of homes are typically as luxurious as the price tag would suggest. Jacaranda–one of what Damianos terms his “star properties”–is a $16.9-million hilltop home with seven bedrooms, six bathrooms, a library, pool house, children’s playground and dining area for up to 20 guests.
Another of the company’s featured properties is the intriguingly named Treehouse–a $4.65-million home nestled into a site overlooking the golf course with extensive outdoor seating space and a separate lot suitable for a guest cottage and pool.
But the actual houses are only one aspect of what attracts financial heavy-hitters to Lyford Cay. Owning property in this neighbourhood gives access to an exclusive social set. As Damianos explains: “People love the lifestyle, the social aspect of it and the activities. Residents can meet interesting people and do things like golfing or go to the beach. What makes Lyford Cay so interesting is that we are already an established community, we are not just waiting to be developed.”
Michelle Cove, a resident of Lyford for over 40 years, agrees. “There is a great sense of community and a very social atmosphere,” she says. Cove, who co-owns Stuart Cove’s diving and watersports company with her husband, spent her childhood in Lyford Cay and is the first alumni member of the Lyford Cay International School to send her own children there. Over the past 40 years, she says, Lyford has grown in popularity and now attracts a different type of resident from the transient social climbers of the past. Nowadays, Lyford Cay caters more to wealthy families attracted by its internationally accredited school, sense of community, and social life.
“It has definitely changed. There is a lot more development now and a lot more families living permanently in the cay,” she says.
The social scene
The social hub of the community is the Lyford Cay Club. Although residents are under no obligation to join, most do so as it is the focal point of the social scene and continues Taylor’s legacy of mingling with the top tier of society in opulent surroundings. Only the privileged are granted membership, and applications are decided on a case-by-case basis. The club currently has 1,400 members and collects over $5 million in membership fees a year. Members are given access to the club’s grounds and facilities such as tennis courts, swimming pool, watersports and restaurant as well as admittance to its many upscale events.
Member Frank Crothers, who is also vice president of the Lyford Cay Foundation and a resident of the community for almost 50 years, says that the club is integral to the community and an important part of maintaining the Lyford lifestyle. “Everyone that is living in Lyford Cay is a beneficiary of E P Taylor. It was his foresight, his innovation and his drive that caused them to build the club and make it what it is today,” he says. “What makes Lyford Cay unique is the fact that it is a club but it is also a lifestyle in which the vision and standards [of its founders] have been kept up. The reason it is a success is because of the calibre of the people; they are very successful people who would be world-class in whatever country they were in.
“Members have to have a certain social standing; be someone who can contribute to the club and have the ability to make a positive difference. They have kept the best of what the club was originally intended for–a place of retreat, relaxation and renewal for the members in surroundings of understated elegance.”
The club, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year with a lavish black tie dinner, enjoys a colourful history having previously welcomed guests such as US President John F Kennedy and British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan. It continues that tradition of entertaining today with a busy social calendar.
“There is a social scene that is wonderful–cocktail parties, dinners and such,” enthuses Crothers.
With most of Lyford’s residents drawn from the top tier of the international banking, investment and media industries, their contribution to the local economy is significant. According to a report from the POA, the wealthy gated community was responsible for contributing $209 million–or around 2.4 per cent–to the gross domestic product (GDP) of The Bahamas in 2008, providing a welcome injection of cash to the national economy in turbulent times.
Manuel Cutillas, chairman of the Lyford Cay Foundation, says: “The significance of Lyford Cay as a community to The Bahamas is the lifestyle. The club has not fired one employee since it started, because members of the club come whether times are good or bad … they are very lucky people.”
Some of the cay’s most notable past residents and “lucky people” include former president of Ford Motor Co, Henry Ford II, billionaire businessman Sir John Templeton and author Arthur Hailey. Modern-day members of the community are just as well known as there predecessors. Current property owners include actor Sir Sean Connery, Irish media magnate Tony O’Reilly and Finnish entrepreneur Peter Nygård. The latter caused controversy when he built his fantastical Robinson Crusoe-style residence, Nygård Cay, in 1987.
Nowadays, those wishing to customize their homes must adhere to the same rules as other property owners in The Bahamas, meaning that approval for the work must be granted by the Ministry of Works. In Lyford, this is merely one step in the process, however. Would-be developers must also satisfy the requirements of the POA, which works closely with the government to ensure any work is approved by both bodies and is in keeping with the area and its conservative style.
“We try to encourage the traditional Lyford Cay style,” explains POA general manager Mary Braithwaite. “This is a 50- year old community. It is very different from the communities of today.”
The POA not only regulates much of the community’s building work, maintains its roads and 4.5 miles of canal wall, but also acts as a kind of resident’s association, dealing with everything that keeps the cay running smoothly, from noise control to rubbish disposal and postal services.
The non-profit organization is run by a board of 19 residents, a chairman and a general manager. Every landowner in Lyford Cay automatically becomes a member when they purchase their land, and these residents can then volunteer for a spot on the board, where they usually serve a mandatory five-year rotation.
Braithwaite explains: “[The board members] are very active in the community. The strength of the community has been in its people, the people that do the right thing and get involved.
“We get all kinds of residents, and everybody feels this is a special place. It makes a difference when the people in the community are involved in it. This is a very vibrant community with a lot of life.”
Lyford Cay is a world apart from some of the poorer areas of the country, but there are also opportunities to get involved in the wider community through institutions such as the Lyford Cay Foundation.
The Foundation, through the donations of its members, grants substantial sums of money to worthy local causes and offers numerous scholarships to young Bahamian students–giving them the opportunity to study at university abroad or gain entry to The College of The Bahamas. “The majority of our donors feel it is a way of contributing to the country that has welcomed them. It is a way to pay it back,” says Cutillas.
Crothers agrees: “We are part of the Bahamian community, and we have not forgotten that. It is not just about privilege and wealth, it is about responsibility.”