Saturday, November 3, 2007

09/25 - Jekyll's vision for the future

Date September 25, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

The Jekyll Island Authority has selected a company that developed a luxury resort in north Georgia to lead a $441 million redevelopment of Jekyll Island.

The board voted Monday during a meeting at the Jekyll Island Convention Center to give the job to Linger Longer Communities, the developer of Reynolds Plantation, a golf resort that includes a Ritz-Carlton hotel at Lake Oconee, east of Atlanta.

Linger Longer will present an overview of its plan during a meeting at 9 a.m. today at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

It will include:

* Construction of three new hotels - a 125-room economy hotel, 200-room mid-price hotel and 400-room convention hotel - at a total cost of $162.5 million.

* A new convention center built in two phases, including a first phase costing $25 million.

* Development of a village center of shops and restaurants for $9.78 million.

* Road, park and other infrastructure improvements costing $25.7 million.

* Construction of 160 condominium units and 227 vacation homes at a total cost of $122 million.

* Construction of parking garages for $6.4 million.

* Replacement of the Buccaneer motel with a $90 million facility.

* An environmental center.

Jim Langford, project executive with Southeast Landco, which is affiliated with Linger Longer, said Monday there is no plan for a Ritz-Carlton on Jekyll Island, although some upscale properties are planned.

"We're planning an economy hotel, a mid-scale beachfront hotel and a convention hotel," said Langford, former state director of the Georgia Trust for Public Land. "The (Jekyll Island Authority) board members all voiced their support for our affordability provisions. That was one of the criteria they used to choose us."

Langford said offering hotels in various price ranges will give visitors more options on the state-owned island.

He said Linger Longer's role is to move the revitalization process forward and begin a more formal planning and design process.

"As partners (with the authority), we'll be involved in taking this proposal before the public to get input," Langford said.

The company must sign a contract with the Jekyll Island Authority before it can begin to plan the construction of the new town center.

Construction will begin after completion of final planning, designing and contractor selections.

"We anticipate it will be some time later next year, but we don't know exactly," Langford said. "We could start opening shops, hotels and restaurants in 2011."

Over the next five years, the company will begin work on the first phase of a new Jekyll Island Convention Center. It will no longer be a beachfront facility, but will face the Great Dunes Golf Course.

"During that construction, the existing convention center will stay open," Langford said. "Then, we'll start tearing down the (old) convention center and move the business to the new one."

The first phase of construction will result in a convention center with 75,800 square feet of space in a two-story building. That will include a lobby, preparation space, meeting rooms and ballroom space.

The second phase - which will follow demolition of the existing convention center - will add 65,275 square feet of space, for a total of 141,075 square feet.

Langford said Linger Longer is committed to environmentally friendly building concepts and increased green space, including parks on the tops of the new convention center and one of the hotels.

"People want more natural environments," Langford said. "Green design concepts are more eco-friendly ... designers and the public are asking for more creative solutions for vacation destinations."

While he likes the "greening" of the project, David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a residents group that had challenged proposals for change, said he still has questions.

"I think the group they picked had some things going for it that the others did not," Egan said. "The park concept, the environmental center and keeping the bike trails are good, as is their paying some attention to affordability."

In addition to the three hotels, Linger Longer's proposal also calls for 277 vacation cottage units and 160 vacation club ownership units.

"My gut reaction is what effect will all those condos have on the laid-back island atmosphere?" Egan asked. "If you listen to what visitors say - and it ought to count for something - for years, people have been saying, 'don't line the beach with condos.'"

The authority and Linger Longer will begin soliciting public comment on the proposed plans in October.

Project will create jobs, revenue

The revitalization of Jekyll Island will create 500 construction jobs during peak construction and another 572 new permanent positions with a combined 10-year payroll of $107.4 million and an economic benefit of nearly $215 million, the developers estimate.

Glynn County and the state will realize an additional $55.3 million in sales tax revenue over the same 10-year period and Glynn County will see an estimated $23 million increase in its property tax revenue, according to a projection by Linger Longer Communities.

A statement issued by the Jekyll Island Authority asserts that Linger Longer was chosen as the authority's revitalization partner based on the company's experience and its sensitivity to the board's key issues, such as density on the island, affordability of the island's accommodations and the environmental impact of the redevelopment.

"Our commitment to the stewardship of Jekyll Island is very serious," said Ben Porter, chair of the board of the authority in a prepared statement. "Linger Longer shares that commitment.

"The new Town Center will re-invigorate Jekyll as Georgia's most desirable vacation and convention destination."

- Mary Starr, The Brunswick News

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