Thursday, July 26, 2007

07/24 - Jekyll deal sadly a steal Taxpayers shouldn't have to bear the costs of 'sweetheart deal' that island authority approved

the ajc news archives

OUR OPINIONS: Jekyll deal sadly a steal Taxpayers shouldn't have to bear the costs of 'sweetheart deal' that island authority approved


BYLINE: LYLE V. HARRIS

Staff
DATE: July 24, 2007
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Editorial
PAGE: A10

The scent wafting from Jekyll Island these days isn't just from the bracing ocean spray or the fragrance of windswept pine trees drifting across its mostly unspoiled beaches. The air is tainted with the stench of state officials luring private developers using public resources as bait.

Last month, the state authority responsible for managing Jekyll Island approved what one board member correctly describes as a "sweetheart deal" to benefit Trammell Crow Co., a Dallas- based developer planning to build a $90 million hotel and condo complex on the island.

Even before the project opens in 2010, the company will get a 10-year break on its rent and other fees totaling $10 million that it would otherwise pay to the authority.

Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority, maintains the arrangement is necessary to kick-start development. During the last legislative session, Porter had been at the forefront of efforts to spur development on the largely pristine southern end of the island, an effort that eventually failed.

Despite Porter's support for the deal, other board members who had agreed to approve the subsidy now belatedly admit they were fuzzy about the details.

"I just don't think that the rent abatement they proposed to give these people is justified," says board member Ed Boshears. "I doesn't make any sense to me."

He's right, it doesn't make sense, at least not for Georgia taxpayers. Such incentives have questionable merit even in economically depressed parts of the state that are willing to bribe potential suitors with incentives and subsidies.

But Jekyll is a coveted crown jewel that hoteliers, restaurateurs and developers of every stripe have been itching to get their hands on recently. It's easy to understand why.

Today, the island is much less developed than many other barrier islands along the coast with about 600 private residences, an aging convention center, a campground and a few fraying hotels and other amenities. Most of Jekyll remains an invaluable environmental resource that has provided lifelong memories for visitors, students and other "plain" Georgians who were to be its principal beneficiaries when the state bought the property in 1947.

Georgia law prohibits development on 65 percent of the island, a restriction that has generated intense interest in what happens on the remaining 35 percent of the 7.5-mile-long island.

A master plan is being created for the roughly 108 acres of Jekyll that are still open for development. The Trammell Crow project is part of $200 million in new condos, hotels, houses and shops being considered.

Not surprisingly, news of the Trammell Crow kiss-on-the-lips from the Jekyll Island Authority has other developers quickly lining up for their own sweet smooch.

Some redevelopment on Jekyll is inevitable, even warranted. But as responsible caretakers for this small patch of paradise that belongs to all of us, the authority shouldn't be in the business of doling out welfare to wealthy developers.

-- Lyle V. Harris, for the editorial board (lharris@ajc.com)

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