Thursday, July 26, 2007

07/25 - Jekyll revival to boost -- not rob -- state

the ajc news archives

Jekyll revival to boost -- not rob -- state


For the Journal-Constitution
DATE: July 25, 2007
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Editorial

Critics of Jekyll Island revitalization are correct when they say a "sweetheart deal" is in the works between the Jekyll Island State Park Authority and a new hotel developer, but it is the people of Georgia who are the beneficiaries.

Contrary to recent news coverage and an AJC editorial, developers are not knocking down the door to build new facilities at Jekyll Island. No new hotel has been constructed in more than 35 years. Most existing hotel rooms do not meet quality standards our vacation and convention guests demand. Visits by these groups, as well as day visitors to Jekyll, have declined more than 13 percent over the last six years. Now, with the promise of a modern, new hotel and others to follow, a major convention has agreed to return and others will come back.

Recent legislation gives the Jekyll Island State Park Authority the ability to offer long-term leases to attract quality redevelopment of substandard island facilities. Fortunately, a well-capitalized hotel developer has stepped forward with an expeditious plan to invest $90 million to replace the Buccaneer Hotel with a 540-room hotel/condo complex, with meeting space, restaurants and a spa. The new facility will employ 200 people.

The inaccurate AJC article refers to a fictitious, $10 million rent break. In fact, during its first 15 years, the project is expected to pay to the authority more than $15 million ($4.95 million more in rent revenue and $10.6 million more in hotel tax revenue) than would be produced by the current hotel lease. Additional sales tax to the state will be $13.3 million. Glynn County will receive an additional $10 million in sales tax and $10.9 million in property tax.

In summary, over the first 15 years, the new facility will provide an estimated $50 million in new revenues to Jekyll Island, Glynn County and the state of Georgia. The 18-month, $90 million construction project will provide jobs for hundreds of workers in the area. The new hotel is "win-win" for all, with the exception of one disgruntled, publicity-seeking board member and a few island residents who resist any and all efforts to improve guest accommodations and increase visitation.

This new hotel complex is an exciting first step in the revitalization of Jekyll Island.

By year's end, the authority will choose a private sector partner and begin a long-term revitalization plan for the developed portion of the island. The result will be greatly improved hotel, convention, retail, dining and entertainment accommodations, so all Georgians and other visitors will want to come and enjoy the beautiful beaches, and see the new Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the marvelous natural areas of "Georgia's Jewel."

The dedicated members of this authority, who proudly serve with no compensation, are committed to preserving the island's beauty and natural resources with environmentally sensitive accommodations.

Yes, we have our naysayers. But a few years from now, when the infrastructure is upgraded and we can offer a beautiful, greatly improved island experience, Georgians will appreciate the efforts that will return this precious resource to its crown jewel status.

• Contributing to this column were board members Steve Croy, Samuel B. Kellett Jr., Becky Kelley, Bob Krueger, Mike Hodges and Sybil Lyn.

• Ben G. Porter is chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.


Ben G. Porter is chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.


jekyll island news said... < Opinion

Let Jekyll stay incentive-free and affordable

Published on: 07/27/07
In a July 25th opinion column, Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority wrote, "Contrary to recent news coverage and an AJC editorial, developers are not knocking down the door to build new facilities at Jekyll Island. No new hotel has been constructed in more than 35 years." ("Jekyll revival to boost — not rob — state." @issue")
Consider the following facts:
• The old Holiday Inn has been torn down, and the Jekyll Ocean Oaks group is scheduled to start construction of a new $25 million to $45 million hotel within the next month.
• The Georgia Coast Inn has been torn down and two developers have been fighting in a lawsuit over which one has the right to build a new hotel on that site. To settle the lawsuit, one developer demanded that the other developer pay $15 million. This is for a 22-year lease on a vacant lot. If it were not for the lawsuit, construction would have already started on a new hotel.
• The Trammell Crow group has purchased the Oceanside Hotel and has stated that it will tear that hotel down and build a new one in the next five years.
• Trammell Crow group is negotiating to buy the Days Inn and has told residents on Jekyll that it wants to tear the Days Inn down and build a more upscale hotel. The Days Inn was renovated just a few years ago and is in very good condition.
The owners of the Jekyll Oceanfront Resort are scheduled to meet with the authority in August to discuss their plans to build a new hotel on that site.
Contrary to Porter's deliberately misleading representations, there is intense interest by developers in building new hotels on Jekyll.
Porter refers to the "fictitious" rent abatement.
According to what Porter himself has told the board, the rent abatement issue arose because Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed a sales tax break that would have benefitted Trammell Crow's new hotel to the tune of $9 million. According to Porter's statements to the board, Trammell Crow claimed that the financing of the new hotel was predicated in part on their expectation of receiving a $9 million sales tax break. Trammell Crow then demanded the rent abatement to make up for what they claimed they would lose due to the veto of the sales tax break.
I asked the authority staff to calculate the amount the authority will lose by reason of the rent abatement. The staff calculated that the gross revenue we would receive without the rent abatement through the year 2020 would be $14.9 million. The amount we will receive with the rent abatement will be $4.8 million, leaving a net rent abatement of $10 million. These figures were presented to the board and Porter made no attempt to contradict them.
In his column, Porter invented a completely new set of figures which bear no relationship to the figures the staff gave to the board. Porter's "calculations" are reminiscent of what one of my Mercer Law School professors used to say: "Figures don't lie, but liars can figure."
Porter is referring to me when he talks about "one disgruntled, publicity-seeking board member." I am also the "disgruntled board member" who opposed Porter's plans to open up the pristine undeveloped south end of Jekyll for luxury housing development. I am also the "disgruntled board member" who opposes Porter's plans to eliminate from Jekyll accommodations affordable to average Georgians.
When I raised the issue of keeping affordable hotels such as the Days Inn on Jekyll, another developer on the board stated that "we're not building any Section 8 housing over here" and, if they can't afford to stay in expensive hotel rooms, "let 'em stay in the campground."
This is the kind of mentality I have to contend with on the Jekyll board.
Lastly, I am not "publicity seeking." As I have told the board, I do not call reporters. Reporters call me. When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter called me about the rent abatement, he already knew the basic details. I told him the truth. If he had not called me, I would not have spoken to the press about it.
What Porter is really unhappy about is that I will not conspire with him to conceal the true facts from the people of Georgia.

— Edward E. Boshears of St. Simons Island is a member of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.

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