Thursday, September 6, 2007

08/31 - Nothing promised in Jekyll discussions

Date August 31, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, thinks the majority of any new lodging on Jekyll Island should be affordable to the majority of Georgians.

But after sitting in on a meeting with the Jekyll Island Authority and a state legislative oversight committee Thursday, Chapman is not convinced that's going to happen.

He expressed concerns in a letter written to the authority in July and he resubmitted those concerns Thursday as he and a large group of Jekyll Island residents interested in the future of the state-owned island listened to authority members outline plans to revitalize the island's commercial assets.

The revitalization project calls for updated lodging options, boosting the island's current stagnant economic impact in Glynn County, and renovating historical sites, including some of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel's structures.

"There was no evidence presented that ensures that the facilities on Jekyll Island are going to be available to people with average incomes," Chapman said.

Residents and other citizens across the state harbor similar concerns. That includes Ed Boshears, a member of the authority board.

A former state senator, Boshears represented Jekyll Island when serving in the Georgia General Assembly.

"We are a state park," Boshears said. "Fifty years ago the Legislature made a decision for Jekyll Island to not be turned into a luxury resort to compete with Sea Island."

Sea Island Co. is world-known for upscale lodgings, including The Lodge - a five star hotel - and The Cloister.

"A lot of people come here because Jekyll is affordable and we don't want to lose sight of that," Boshears said.

The cost of overnight stays on the island wasn't the only concern members of the oversight committee heard.

Authority members sought to explain confusion surrounding the agreement the board has with Trammell Crow, a developer seeking to replace the Buccaneer Beach Resort with a newer hotel-condominium facility.

Criticism of the project was sparked this past spring when reports arose that Trammell and Crow was given a multi-million dollar incentive to revitalize areas on Jekyll Island.

The company is proposing a $90 million hotel and condo development in the footprint of the current Buccaneer.

Ben Porter, chair of the authority, said the $10 million figure was in reference to a rent abatement. He added that the practice isn't new.

"We're not giving away tax dollars," he said. "It's merely an incentive to bring businesses to the island.

"It's a standard graduated ramp up of rent over time for companies with a large investment."

During the meeting, it was also pointed out that the Buccaneer project was not bid out to other companies.

Authority members defended the decision, noting that the project is merely a redevelopment of property already leased by Trammell Crow.

Legislative committee members present at the meeting included Sens. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, and Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Reps. Terry Barnard, R-Glennville, and Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. Williams and Keen chair the committee.

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