Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11/21 - Jekyll developer promises rooms to be affordable

The Florida Times-Union
November 21, 2007
By Brandon Larrabee,
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - A key official of the company awarded the contract to redevelop some of Jekyll Island's sagging tourist infrastructure laid out the development plan and defended it during a public hearing.

A few dozen people attended the session at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta.

Jim Langford, the project executive for Linger Longer Communities, stressed to those attending the meeting that public comments could change the company's approach to development.

"The plan you're going to hear today is not set in stone," he said.

Langford said many of the horror stories of high-priced hotels and high-rise condominiums that spread in the buildup to Linger Longer's selection were overblown. But the company wasn't able to respond before its selection because it would have been seen as tampering with the process, he said.

"We couldn't tell people, 'Don't worry; it's going to be better than that,' " he said.

Langford said the new development would include a 125-room economy and 200-room midscale hotel a short distance from the beach. In all, 72 percent of Linger Longer's rooms will cost less than $139 a night, and half would go for $96 a night.

"We think we need a few higher-end rooms, because there will be some people who want higher-end rooms," he said.

But Langford faced a skeptical audience, some of whom expressed fears that the project would change the character of a state-owned island set aside by Georgia law as a tourism hub for average citizens.

"I learned a long time ago that if you want to, you can dress up a turkey to make him look good," said Larry Ross of Carrollton.

Ross said that, despite the presentation, he was worried about the affordability of the island's hotels.

"I feel that the current development plan would make it difficult or impossible for the average citizen of Georgia to continue to visit Jekyll," Ross said.

Dory Ingram, a member of the grass-roots group the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said the redevelopment was just one in a series of events, like the overhaul of the old Buccaneer hotel, that threatened Jekyll.

"The process that has begun here will rob Georgia citizens of their legacy," Ingram said.

But Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, said environmentally friendly lawmakers wouldn't let Linger Longer go too far.

"We're watching and working with these folks," Wilkinson said. "We're watching like hawks, I think."

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