Thursday, September 6, 2007

08/29 - Jekyll panel seeks clarity

Date August 29, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

The Senate chair of the Jekyll Island legislative oversight committee says he's unsure what people mean by affordable accommodations and is all for improving the state's ocean park.

"I've had a number of people from the public who want to know about protecting the island for the average Georgian, keeping it affordable," Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said Tuesday.

"I'm not sure what these folks asking questions about affordability mean. We're not going to have a Ritz-Carlton over there, and we're not going to have a Cloister over there."

Williams and fellow members of the oversight committee - from the Senate, Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville and Ross Tolleson, R-Perry; and from the House, Jerry Keen, chair, R-St. Simons Island; Terry Barnard, R-Glennville; and Karla Drenner, D-DeKalb - will meet with the Jekyll Island Authority at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Convention Center to discuss plans for the island's future.

The meeting between the two comes at a time when those who own houses in the park and a growing number of allies around the state are expressing concerns about the kind of hotels that the authority will bring to Jekyll. They say they fear there will be high-priced accommodations that will be out of reach of most Georgians.

Williams said he and other members of the committee are not opposed to the thinking of those questioning the affordability of proposed developments.

"And from our conversations with some of the (authority) board members, they intend to have some affordable motels on the island," Williams said. "These affordable hotels may not be on the beach, but they will be there."

The affordability question arose after the authority announced that Trammel Crow, a Texas developer, is proposing to build a $90 million hotel-convention complex where the Buccaneer now stands. Critics of the proposal, which is part of the authority's revitalization plan, said this and other plans will elevate Jekyll beyond the financial means of average Georgians.

Williams said he checked the cost of room stays on the mainland, including ones on Ga. Spur 25.

"I asked how much they get, and their rooms are in the $100-$150 range," Williams said.

"I just don't think we're ever going to get under $100. You just can't build one on the ocean and make a cash flow for that."

Williams, who owns a house on St. Simons Island and who once represented Jekyll Island when it was part of his Senate district, said he supports revitalizing the island. He is aware of the problems, including the aging, run-down state of facilities.

He said groups and organizations do not meet on Jekyll for conventions like they once did. A group he is a member of, the Georgia Motor Trucker Association, is one of them.

"They don't even consider Jekyll any more, and these aren't high end-conventions," Williams said. "They go to Amelia Island, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. They want something clean and nice, and it's not Jekyll anymore.

"They don't want a Cloister or a Westin. They just want a reasonable priced hotel with a convention center and restaurants and some entertainment for their children."

Williams said the goal of the oversight committee is to make sure revitalization takes place within the rules. That includes no new developments on the south end of the island outside of existing footprints.

"Jekyll is a resource we have to upgrade," Williams said. "We can't just let it keep going down and down."

When the committee meets with the authority, only members of the two bodies will be able to speak. Residents and other organizations will not be given the floor.

That includes the Altamaha Riverkeeper, which is circulating a petition and urging members to attend the meeting and be heard.

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