Sunday, December 16, 2007

12/11 - Developer - Jekyll plans on track

Date December 11, 2007
Section(s) Local News

The Brunswick News

The proposed redevelopment of Jekyll Island remains on track despite opposition, a lawsuit and the soon-to-be-loss of the state park's executive director, those close to the project say.

Obstacles include opposition to the plan, an outspoken force that includes state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, a lawsuit filed against the company guiding the development and the announced departure of Bill Donohue, head of the Jekyll Island Authority.

Some may view opposition to the revitalization project as a barrier to progress, but not Jim Langford, project executive director of Linger Longer Communities.

Having just completed a series of public meetings on the proposed plans, Langford said citizen feedback is essential to the refining process. In fact, Linger Longer is looking forward to the public providing more input on the process once the refined plan is presented, he said.

Linger Longer, partnering with the Jekyll Island Authority, will oversee the $441 million makeover that includes new hotels and a convention center.

"The public input plays a major part in refining the plans," Langford said. "We had a lot of good input and good public response, and we are still receiving input from phone calls and emails."

Themes that surfaced during the process have been exactly what Linger Longer anticipated, he said. The company expected the public to address the questions that it did, including whether roads are in the right places and whether the pricing of future accommodations is right.

"These are the same areas we knew would be important to the public," Langford said. "We will be looking at the plans to revise them to see how things need to change to meet the needs."

Once revisions are made, another round of public input meetings will be required to further refine plans.

Chapman, whose district includes Jekyll Island, is asking the state attorney general to look into several components of the plan, including whether it would be in violation of the legislature's directive that Jekyll Island remain affordable to average Georgians.

As for the lawsuit, Langford is not worried.

The Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer Communities are confident the judge will dismiss the lawsuit filed against them by Wade Shealy Jr., accusing the JIA of unfairly awarding the project.

Linger Longer, which joined JIA in the lawsuit, doesn't anticipate any stumbling blocks with the progress of the revitalization plans.

The Georgia General Attorney's office, which represents the governor-appointed authority, is expected to file motions this week on the lawsuit.

"There is no indication that the lawsuit filed will change our schedule," Langford said. "It hasn't stymied the progress, it has had no effect on us.

"I think the judge will agree the lawsuit has no merit and I don't think it will slow us down."

Donohue will be missed, but his departure at the end of this month shouldn't make a difference in carrying out the wishes of the authority, said Eric Garvey, senior marketing director of the Jekyll Island Authority.

Donohue, executive director of the authority since September 1997, was named director of the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority in North Georgia effective Jan. 1.

A replacement for Donohue has yet to be announced.

"We aren't viewing this as a challenge because we have a great team to keep the process moving forward," Garvey said. "We will select a qualified new executive director.

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