Thursday, August 16, 2007

08/15 - Senator expecting answers

Date August 15, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, says he's waiting for the Jekyll Island Authority to respond to questions he has about a past action it took and about the future of the state-owned island.

Chapman wants to know, among other things, what the authority hopes to gain by handing a developer $10 million in incentives to build and operate a new hotel complex on the island and how it plans to keep the island within the price range of Georgians.

Chapman is particularly interested in hearing what the authority has to say about the incentives it's giving Trammell Crow, developer of a proposed $90 million, 540-room hotel-condominium complex with meeting space, restaurants and spa. The development will replace the aging Buccaneer Hotel.

The authority approved a $10 million rent abatement package for Trammel Crow in July.

"I want to know how giving away $10 million helps them and helps Jekyll become what it needs to be," Chapman said.

Ben G. Porter, chair of the authority, defended the package earlier, noting that the new development will more than make up for the incentives because it will yield millions of dollars more in tax and lease revenue than the current facility.

Chapman also is concerned about any plans to replace existing hotels with high-end accommodations and the ability of state residents of average income to be able to enjoy one of Georgia's assets.

"I don't want the authority to lose sight of the original intent of this public asset," Chapman said. "It was bought for the average Georgian of average income. That includes an overnight stay.

"The board is obligated, empowered, to do everything necessary to make that happen."

Bill Donohue, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, said Chapman - who wrote the JIA a letter - will have his answer this week.

"I spoke with (Chapman) today and told him he would receive our response on Thursday," Donohue said Tuesday.

Chapman is not the only one concerned about affordability. Keep Jekyll Island Affordable, a campaign headed up by Jekyll resident David Egan, is collecting signatures everywhere it can to show Gov. Sonny Perdue and the authority that Georgians are watching what they do.

"In the brief span of time we've been conducting our campaign, we have secured over 2,000 petition signatures and survey responses on the affordability question, as well as over 100 pages of affordability-related commentary from Georgians across the state and from Jekyll's many advocates in other parts of America," said Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

The goal of the organization is 100,000 signatures.

"Even if we fall short of that figure, I believe we will be able to establish our point," Egan said.

It has established a point with the Altamaha Riverkeeper, which is urging its members to sign the petition and to spread it around.

"Our organization is deeply concerned about the JIA's effort to promote high-end and highly consumptive uses of the island, in contrast to more recreational activities," said Deborah Sheppard, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper.

"There is concern on the part of many residents that sweetheart deals by the JIA will run counter to any effort to make the island available to common people."

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