Thursday, September 20, 2007

09/18 - Deal to help return Jekyll to vacation spot > Opinion
Published on: 09/18/07

During the 1960s and 1970s, Jekyll Island was one of Georgia's favorite vacation spots. When Lucille Ball and Monty Hall ruled the airwaves ... winners on "Let's Make a Deal" often won trips to Jekyll Island and the then luxurious Buccaneer Hotel.

Fast forward 40 years. Most of Jekyll's hotel stock is tired and outdated.

In 2006, the Jekyll Island Authority sold the lease for the deteriorating Buccaneer Hotel, to developers, saving the hotel from bankruptcy. But despite maintaining affordable rates, the occupancy level for the Buccaneer this year has been only 37 percent.

Jekyll's former bread and butter, state professional associations, nonprofits, churches and other mid-sized conventions have been leaving the island in droves. While Jekyll has historically been self-supporting, if these declines continue, the Jekyll Island Authority will need to look elsewhere for revenue, or substantially reduce its operations of preserving and maintaining Jekyll.

Trammell Crow, a world class developer, has recently formed Jekyll Crow Replacement Hotel I. LLC, to construct a $90-million, three-star hotel and conference center on the Buccaneer site. Their plan calls for a conference center, 300 hotel rooms and 120 two-bedroom condominiums available for rental as hotel rooms during peak periods. Lease and hotel-motel payments to the JIA by the current Buccaneer over the next 20 years would total $7.5 million. Our new lease agreement for the larger hotel and conference center will give the JIA nearly $32 million over the same period or more than $1 million in new revenue per year.

Much has been made of a so called "sweetheart" deal between Trammell Crow and the JIA. Like most businesses, we negotiated this long term lease, and the details of the lease were then reviewed and voted on in a public meeting by the Jekyll Island Authority.

The Jekyll Island Club Hotel, which we greatly admire, made no lease payments at all to the JIA during its first decade of operation.

The city of Cumming, Forsyth County and state of Georgia recently assembled a package of incentives for Great Wolf Resorts to build a $130-million hotel, conference center and water park on Lake Lanier. That project will receive infrastructure improvements and tax incentives totaling $16.6 million. Jekyll Crow is receiving no rebates, no cash incentives, no tax reductions, no free land, no state appropriation or infrastructure improvements to their site.

We recently received a commitment from the Georgia Rotary Clubs International to return to Jekyll in 2009 if this new hotel is built. We look forward to helping Georgia restore Jekyll's luster, and placing it back atop metro Atlanta family vacation lists.

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