Saturday, September 8, 2007

09/08 - Jekyll Island builder deal fought. Senator wants $10 million rent deal rescinded > Metro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/08/07

Sen. Jeff Chapman, the Brunswick Republican whose district includes Jekyll Island, demanded Friday that the state park's governing board rescind the $10 million rent break recently given to one of the nation's largest developers to build a new hotel.

Chapman also criticized the authority's "lack of transparency and accountability" as it begins awarding redevelopment contracts and questioned whether its secretive meetings are legal.

The senator's over-arching fear is that Jekyll Island Authority board members, who oversee the state park, will transform it into a well-heeled enclave unaffordable to middle-class Georgians.

"This is a state park. It's not about developing private property," said Chapman. "It's about allowing Georgians to have reasonable access to the coast and natural resources for recreation."

Authority chairman Ben Porter defended the board's actions and the rent break, insisting the process has been fair and legal, and that future accommodations will be affordable.

"Because of confidentiality and proprietary information, the information is secretive until the committee makes a recommendation," he said, "at which point the process will be totally public and transparent, and everybody will be totally satisfied."

On Sept. 24, the authority is scheduled to choose a master planner who eventually will develop hundreds of acres of prime island property. Three companies — Trammell Crow Co., Linger Longer Communities and Jekyll Island Revitalization Group — remain in the running. Each has submitted preliminary plans to redevelop the park's proposed 45-acre "town center" that stretches from the current retail district beyond the convention center.

"We have three excellent proposals and expect to come out with a fine plan for redevelopment to make Jekyll the premier, environmentally friendly destination on the East Coast," said Porter.

He added that the authority's decision last month to grant Trammell Crow – the Texas-based real-estate conglomerate that's also re-developing property along the beach – a $10 million rent break through 2020 is "a done deal."

Trammell Crow expects to tear down the Buccaneer Beach Resort by year's end and replace it with a 300-room hotel with 120 two-room condos. Hotel room rates could top $250 a night.

Chapman, in a six-page memorandum sent to Porter and members of the authority's legislative oversight committee this week, questioned "why would a multi-billion dollar corporation need to be induced into building a hotel complex on nine acres of prime oceanfront property?"

Porter has apologized for not allowing board members sufficient time to debate the merits of the Trammell Crow deal.

Chapman, board member Ed Boshears and Jekyll residents say lack of information and public input continues to plague the island's redevelopment.

No public hearings will be held before Sept. 24. The public won't likely learn details of the three proposals until after the winner is selected.

In an Aug. 31 letter to Bill Donohue, the authority's executive director, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation wrote that the authority "appears to have improperly conducted its public meetings [and] appears to be failing to comply properly with the requirements of the open records act."

Donohue said Friday that the board is "following the state's established procurement process" guidelines and to do otherwise would compromise bidders' confidentiality.

David Egan, an island resident and co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said he fears board members also will sacrifice affordability for big-bucks redevelopment.

"The ultimate goal is to keep the park accessible and affordable for most Georgians and visitors," said Egan, whose Web site,, advocates public participation in the island's future. "What's missing is how the needs of average Georgians are being met."

Porter said they'll be met.

"The policy of the board has been, is and will remain to offer all levels of accommodations for all price ranges in any Jekyll revitalization," he said. "Logic says a beachfront, ocean-view room rents higher than one a hundred yards away, so those economy hotels will not be looking at the ocean. I don't see anything wrong with that."

Chapman does.

"That type of thinking is very troubling and actually discriminates against the public's access to public property," he said. "Jekyll is no different than a public building. Sure, oceanfront views are valuable, but they're equally valuable to all Georgians."

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