Saturday, July 28, 2007

07/14 - Major resort project on horizon for Jekyll Island

The Florida Times-Union
July 14, 2007
Major resort project on horizon for Jekyll Island
By Alison Trinidad, The Times-Union

The Jekyll Island Authority and three investors are nearing a $90 million deal to redevelop a beachfront resort that would be the first major hotel project on the Georgia barrier island in decades.

Led by Dallas-based developer Trammell Crow Co., the investment group issued a statement about the proposed project this week.

The hotel will replace the four-story Buccaneer Beach Resort, a 200-room complex that the developers bought out of bankruptcy about two years ago. Buccaneer Beach will remain open through Labor Day but is slated for demolition soon after. Construction of the yet-unnamed hotel, which is just south of the Jekyll Island Convention Center, is expected to begin by the end of September and be completed in 18 months.

The new hotel includes 300 rooms and 120 two-bedroom condos that may also be used as hotel rooms; 15,000 to 18,000 square feet of meeting space; a spa; and two swimming pools, said developer Earl Patton, a principal of NewSouth Partners LLC. Buildings will be no higher than five stories.

The announcement comes a little over a month since Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill that extends the authority's lease to 2089 and protects the southern end of Jekyll Island from being developed. The state owns the island and leases property through the authority to residents, hotel operators and business owners. By law, only 35 percent of the island can be developed.

"This is a significant announcement by the Jekyll Island Authority and the companies involved," Perdue said in a news release. "The authority is taking progressive, positive steps to bring new investments that preserve the natural beauty and affordability of the island."

The investor group consists of Trammell Crow, NewSouth and Global Asset Alternatives LLC. The three own two other hotel sites on the island, one of which has been razed and another that will undergo a $1.5 million renovation. Between those hotels, the group will employ about 400 people once the new resort is finished.

NewSouth and Global Asset Alternatives, both based in Atlanta, also are working on two other hotel projects in suburban Atlanta, Patton said. Patton said he and his son, Richard, helped develop the Sawgrass Marriott resort in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The developers have hired Cooper Carry, an Atlanta architecture firm that also designed the master plan for Jekyll Island's redevelopment last year. Patton said designs for the new resort will follow environmentally friendly building standards. He said the developers have held numerous meetings with residents to discuss the plans for the resort.

"Fortunately, we have good relations [with the citizens]," Patton said. "It is a beautiful beach. ... We want to bring back the meetings and conventions that have left Jekyll. We need to bring people back."

Created in 1950, the authority is in the midst of finding a long-term partner to help revitalize the island's tourism infrastructure, specifically to bring new stores to the site near the convention center.

Once an exclusive club for the rich that included the likes of J.P. Morgan and William Vanderbilt, Jekyll Island was purchased by the state in 1947 through condemnation proceedings to become a state park. Convention space, retail centers and beachfront hotels were built through the 1970s, but commercial development has stalled since.

Another development group has plans to build 200 hotel rooms on the site of a former Holiday Inn, but construction has not begun.

"These hotels are aging," said Bill Donohue, executive director of the authority. "We're not as competitive in the market as we'd like to be."

In the past six years, the number of visitors to Jekyll Island has dropped 13 percent, from 1.89 million in 2000 to 1.64 million in 2006, according to the authority. Authority revenue - which comes from lease income, visitor fees and hotel taxes - has stayed relatively flat.,
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