Thursday, July 26, 2007

07/15 - Perdue fingerprints are on Jekyll

The Florida Times-Union July 15, 2007

Perdue fingerprints are on Jekyll

By Brandon Larrabee, 
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - Patrice Hinton Oswalt had something on her mind.

After "many years absence," she and her husband had visited Jekyll Island, Oswalt wrote in an e-mail to Gov. Sonny Perdue. Plans to revitalize the island's sagging tourist infrastructure dismayed her and Oswalt was not convinced that traditional limits on development would protect "Georgia's Jewel."

"Surely there are other options to enhance island revenues without destroying the delicate ecosystem," Oswalt wrote. "Maintaining 65 percent of the island undeveloped while overdeveloping the remaining 35 percent is not a viable answer for the future of Jekyll Island, but rather a way to appease greed."

Her e-mail is among hundreds of pages of documents on Jekyll Island reviewed by the Times-Union under the state's open-records laws.

Contrary to his publicly maintained distance on the debate over Jekyll Island's future, the documents show Perdue's office was sometimes intimately involved in the debate over extending the Jekyll Island Authority's lease in hopes of luring private developers.

The documents also reveal ties between the governor's office and lobbyists for developers interested in Jekyll's potential for profit. Some of those developers are expected to be major players in the island's redevelopment, though Perdue insists he has no favorites.

House Bill 214, which Perdue signed in May, protects the island's ecologically fragile south end and bars the state from selling any Jekyll land. The original bill had none of those safeguards that were proposed by legislators outside Perdue's camp.

While the governor didn't talk about the bill, he assigned key aide Lonice Barrett to keep an eye on it. A former commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, Barrett had just stepped down from overseeing a major administrative overhaul that was arguably one of Perdue's pet projects.

Perdue was intent on looking out for Jekyll's best interests, Barrett said.

Among other things, Barrett described his role as that of a coordinator to "try to keep everybody in the information loop.''

Others, though, see a governor trying to push the agenda of wealthy and politically connected developers who covet Jekyll's natural beauty as a potential playground for the rich.

"This thing was being cooked all along," said Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club who was involved in the political battle over the island's future.

Drafts of the authority's plans and memos referencing meetings between authority officials and Perdue stretch back to 2004.

The authority's plans mentioned several possibilities for the island and pushed for a lease extension more than two years before one was offered in the General Assembly. And parts of the south end were targeted for development.

"The site that is currently occupied by the 4H center and the soccer fields offers a substantial opportunity to increase the residential base of Jekyll Island," a draft plan developed by the authority said.

The combined 19 acres could be used for single-family lots, the draft said.

Having learned of the draft documents, Herring said he was relieved that the lease-extension bill thwarted those development plans. "They plainly were going to develop it, and I think they were going to develop it first," he said.

Throughout 2005, meetings took place on a variety of fronts, including on federal legislation removing parts of Jekyll from a list of protected areas on barrier islands where the government refused to underwrite flood insurance. Perdue's office was involved in lobbying for the change.

Parts of the island were later removed, though some land was also added to the protected areas as a swap.

One item, for example, suggests an attempt to time public discussion of the politically touchy subject of Jekyll's future.

In meeting notes dated Sept. 29, 2005, Barrett wrote "blanket on redevel. issues till after re-elect." Barrett concedes the notes were his but says he can't remember their meaning.

"I'm trying to remember whether this was re-election in Georgia or whether, since this was federal legislation, whether there was something on that as well. ... I don't remember the context of that. I don't know why I would have written that down," Barrett said.

Herring said the possibility the note was about federal elections stretches credibility. U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., who represents Jekyll, always easily wins re-election in a strongly Republican district, he said.

Perdue, at the time, faced the possibility of a tough 2006 campaign against either proficient fundraiser Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor or popular Secretary of State Cathy Cox. Taylor won the Democratic primary but lost to Perdue.

"He's talking about the governor's race," Herring said of Barrett. "He's trying to keep the issue out of Mark Taylor's hands."

During internal deliberations on the island's future, the authority raised the possibility of selling all or part of Jekyll.

"Make every effort to sell the existing real estate and commercial operations to private operators in an effort to dissolve the Authority and persuade Glynn County to take over the municipal services and the private sector to operate the commercial activities leaving the remainder as a natural area and state park," a document reads.

Barrett maintains that was never a viable solution. In a packet presented to him by the authority in December, there is a handwritten "X" - indicating disapproval - next to a reference to private ownership.

Selling so much as "1 square foot of Jekyll Island would be absolutely the wrong thing to do,'' he said.

Although it had been discussed, Barrett said his only suggestion was it shouldn't be done.

A check mark appears by "Select Private Sector Master Revitalization Partner," an idea the report backs and that the authority has since adopted.

When it passed HB 214, the General Assembly stripped language allowing the sale of some parts of the island and also blocked development on the south end.

The documents also show Barrett and the governor's office were involved in some legislative mechanics that led to the passage of HB 214 and, in some cases, were apparent contacts for interested developers.

A target of some environmentalists' ire, lobbyist and former Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Tanner, also pops up in the e-mails. Tanner monitored the Jekyll legislation from the onset and later registered as a lobbyist for the politically connected owners of Reynolds Plantation, a resort on Lake Oconee.

Barrett characterized Tanner's involvement as occasional conversations between two people who had known each other for decades. Barrett said he backed away after Tanner registered on April 10 as a lobbyist for Southeast Landco, a Reynolds group company.

James and Harold Reynolds, two officials of Linger Longer, the company that owns the resort, gave a combined $13,400 to Perdue's re-election campaign.

Once that happened, Barrett said he made sure he distanced himself, "for the very reasons that you might suspect."

Herring said the only reason Barrett would say he backed away from Tanner was "a guilty conscience" for working with the lobbyist in the first place.

"There's no reason not to talk to a lobbyist who's registered," Herring said.

There are documents that indicate a willingness by the governor's office to rebuff at least some concerns raised by developers. Former state Sen. Earl Patton e-mailed the governor's chief operating officer, Jim Lientz, raising "DEEP concern" that the length of the lease provided for in one version of the bill might prompt a developer to pull out of a deal.

"I guess we will see if they are bluffing," Lientz wrote to Barrett and Ed Holcombe, Perdue's chief of staff.

And Perdue gave a clear message to the Jekyll Island Authority during a signing ceremony for HB 214 in May, Barrett said.

" 'You need to understand, I have absolutely no preconceived ideas of where we need to go,' " Barrett recalls Perdue saying. " 'You need to hear me loud and clear,' and I'm quoting him almost verbatim, 'I want you to do what's best for Georgia. I want it to stand up to scrutiny. I want you to make a good business deal. I want you to protect Jekyll Island. I want to see Jekyll Island realize its potential.' "

After a wait that made environmentalists and island residents jittery, Perdue signed the bill on the last possible day, extending the leases putting environmental protections in place.

"I think he just simply wanted to be sure that in his mind he was doing the right thing," Barrett said. "And I think he finally got comfortable with the fact that this was a bill he was willing to sign, and I think it was a terrific step he took to sign the legislation and set the stage for Jekyll to, we hope, to be all that it can be.",
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07/23 - 'Sweetheart deal' alleged at Jekyll 
Plum for developer: Critics say state's $10 million rent break on such valuable land is absurd.

the ajc news archives

'Sweetheart deal' alleged at Jekyll 
Plum for developer: Critics say state's $10 million rent break on such valuable land is absurd.


DATE: July 23, 2007
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The board that runs Jekyll Island, the financially strapped state park that's in line for billions of dollars of new hotels and condos, recently granted one of the nation's largest developers a rent break that could top $10 million.

The Jekyll Island Authority board approved a passel of incentives last month for Trammell Crow Co. and partners that is scheduled to run through 2020. Local and state governments routinely offer subsidies to spur development, particularly in little-developed, undesirable locales.

But critics counter that Jekyll is potentially a red-hot property and special subsidies aren't needed to further its development.

Ed Boshears, an authority board member, labeled the incentives "a sweetheart deal" and "fiscally irresponsible."

"I just don't think that the rent abatement they proposed to give to these people is justified," he said in an interview last week. "It just doesn't make any sense to me."

Meanwhile, other developers planning big hotel and condo projects on Jekyll said last week they too would seek similar subsidies from the Authority, which could hinder the state park's ability to fix its historic district or renourish its beaches. The authority, which rarely receives state funds, doesn't have enough money for all upgrades.

Ben Porter, chairman of the authority board, defends the incentives, saying they are necessary to ensure Trammell Crow moves forward quickly with the proposed $90 million hotel and condo project.

It's "a business development enticement to get quality development to get quality hotel accommodations for guests in Georgia," said Porter, who helped negotiate the deal. "We have a perfectly rational business plan to entice quality revitalization of Jekyll."

Jekyll's latest turn in the spotlight comes as the Authority revs up development of the state park/residential enclave/convention destination/beach resort. After a contentious session of the Georgia Legislature that pitted island preservationists against those who favor development, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill to prohibit construction on the island's south end.

The state bought Jekyll in 1947 and designated it "a state park for the plain people of Georgia." By law, 65 percent of the island must remain undeveloped.

Developers are keen to build hotels, condos, restaurants and more on the remaining 35 percent. Big-time developers, including Trammell Crow, The Jacoby Group and Mercer Reynolds, seek to become the authority's development partner, responsible for coordinating an estimated $3 billion in new construction on the island.

Authority executive director Bill Donohue said a half-dozen applications are expected by Aug. 13.

With interest in the island high, preservationists question why the authority hands out any incentives.

"Given the attractiveness of Jekyll as a development site -- we've got beautiful ocean-front property -- I don't understand why we have to 'lure' developers," said David Egan, co-director of the nonprofit Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island. "Simple supply and demand should tell you that the authority is in the driver's seat. What's Trammell Crow going to do? Go to another island?"

The Dallas-based real-estate conglomerate, along with two partners, proposes a $90 million project on 9.7 oceanfront acres where the rundown Buccaneer Beach Resort now sits. Trammell Crow plans to build 300 hotel rooms, 120 condos, a restaurant, spa and meeting rooms.

J.D. Dell, Trammell Crow's senior managing director, said he wouldn't speculate on whether his company would have abandoned Jekyll or undertaken a smaller project without the incentives. His hotel could be the first constructed on Jekyll in 35 years -- a risky business proposition, he said.

"If we move forward and the rest of the island is not moving forward as well with regard to revitalization, and the other, surrounding amenities (to) draw people are not upgraded . . . then our project will be at risk," Dell said.

Boshears, a former state senator, said the deal could keep the authority from spending enough money to fix a backlog of "deferred maintenance" projects. The authority tallies $50 million needed to upgrade the historic district, golf courses, water park and beaches in need of new sand.

Boshears, like all board members, voted for the project. But he soon regretted it.

Boshears is miffed with how little time was afforded board members to analyze the deal. After virtually no discussion, Boshears said, the board approved the abatement during its June 18 meeting. He read the document that afternoon, grew suspicious, considered his vote "a profound error" and asked Porter and others for an explanation.

"In my haste to finally get the decision made and a new replacement hotel started, I erred," Porter wrote in a June 28 e-mail to all board members. "I sincerely apologize for rushing this decision and assure you that I will make an effort to avoid this kind of problem in the future."

Donohue, the authority director, said the abatement deal makes good business sense because the new hotel and condos will pump more revenue into island coffers than the Buccaneer. It will also indicate to other developers that Jekyll is a sound investment, he added, an important signal given the island's deteriorating accommodations.

"The board truly looked at it as an economic development deal and wanted to attract a serious developer with financing, not a group coming in the door saying, 'Here's our proposal. We want your approval and now we'll go find the money'," Donohue said. Trammell Crow "has the money to invest and close the deal. Because of that, they got many valuable incentives."

Kevin Runner, who plans to build a new hotel near Trammell Crow's, seeks similar inducements. The Authority granted Runner's group a smaller incentive package good for only three years.

"We have already spoken with the board and we intend to renegotiate our deal. They've assured us they're willing to do that," Runner said, and Donohue confirmed. "A new precedent has been set and [the Authority] appears to be willing to work with people willing to invest money into this island."


The state of Georgia bought Jekyll Island in 1947 and turned it into "a state park for the plain people of Georgia."

• By law, 65 percent of Jekyll must remain undeveloped.

• During the last legislative session, the island's pristine South end was ruled off-limits to new development.

• Roughly $200 million in redevelopment is planned for existing hotels.

• By Aug. 13, developers hoping to build hotels, condos and retail likely worth billions of dollars must officially notify the the Jekyll Island Authority.


The Jekyll Island Authority runs the state park and collects revenue from hotels, food and beverage sales, parking fees and more. It sometimes gives incentives for new development. The incentives for Trammell Crow Co. will kick in once the hotel opens, scheduled for 2010. According to an analysis by the authority:

In the first year of operation, Trammell Crow will get a break on the rent and food and beverage fees it pays the authority, worth an estimated $828,000.

Incentives reach $1.06 million in the sixth year.

By 2020, the authority will have relinquished $10.03 million in subsidies. The state park will have received $4.9 million in rent.

That year, Trammell Crow will start paying full rent.

Note: Estimates could change depending on the eventual size and success of the project.

07/24 - Jekyll deal sadly a steal Taxpayers shouldn't have to bear the costs of 'sweetheart deal' that island authority approved

the ajc news archives

OUR OPINIONS: Jekyll deal sadly a steal Taxpayers shouldn't have to bear the costs of 'sweetheart deal' that island authority approved


DATE: July 24, 2007
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Editorial

The scent wafting from Jekyll Island these days isn't just from the bracing ocean spray or the fragrance of windswept pine trees drifting across its mostly unspoiled beaches. The air is tainted with the stench of state officials luring private developers using public resources as bait.

Last month, the state authority responsible for managing Jekyll Island approved what one board member correctly describes as a "sweetheart deal" to benefit Trammell Crow Co., a Dallas- based developer planning to build a $90 million hotel and condo complex on the island.

Even before the project opens in 2010, the company will get a 10-year break on its rent and other fees totaling $10 million that it would otherwise pay to the authority.

Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority, maintains the arrangement is necessary to kick-start development. During the last legislative session, Porter had been at the forefront of efforts to spur development on the largely pristine southern end of the island, an effort that eventually failed.

Despite Porter's support for the deal, other board members who had agreed to approve the subsidy now belatedly admit they were fuzzy about the details.

"I just don't think that the rent abatement they proposed to give these people is justified," says board member Ed Boshears. "I doesn't make any sense to me."

He's right, it doesn't make sense, at least not for Georgia taxpayers. Such incentives have questionable merit even in economically depressed parts of the state that are willing to bribe potential suitors with incentives and subsidies.

But Jekyll is a coveted crown jewel that hoteliers, restaurateurs and developers of every stripe have been itching to get their hands on recently. It's easy to understand why.

Today, the island is much less developed than many other barrier islands along the coast with about 600 private residences, an aging convention center, a campground and a few fraying hotels and other amenities. Most of Jekyll remains an invaluable environmental resource that has provided lifelong memories for visitors, students and other "plain" Georgians who were to be its principal beneficiaries when the state bought the property in 1947.

Georgia law prohibits development on 65 percent of the island, a restriction that has generated intense interest in what happens on the remaining 35 percent of the 7.5-mile-long island.

A master plan is being created for the roughly 108 acres of Jekyll that are still open for development. The Trammell Crow project is part of $200 million in new condos, hotels, houses and shops being considered.

Not surprisingly, news of the Trammell Crow kiss-on-the-lips from the Jekyll Island Authority has other developers quickly lining up for their own sweet smooch.

Some redevelopment on Jekyll is inevitable, even warranted. But as responsible caretakers for this small patch of paradise that belongs to all of us, the authority shouldn't be in the business of doling out welfare to wealthy developers.

-- Lyle V. Harris, for the editorial board (

07/25 - Jekyll revival to boost -- not rob -- state

the ajc news archives

Jekyll revival to boost -- not rob -- state


For the Journal-Constitution
DATE: July 25, 2007
PUBLICATION: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)
EDITION: Main; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
SECTION: Editorial

Critics of Jekyll Island revitalization are correct when they say a "sweetheart deal" is in the works between the Jekyll Island State Park Authority and a new hotel developer, but it is the people of Georgia who are the beneficiaries.

Contrary to recent news coverage and an AJC editorial, developers are not knocking down the door to build new facilities at Jekyll Island. No new hotel has been constructed in more than 35 years. Most existing hotel rooms do not meet quality standards our vacation and convention guests demand. Visits by these groups, as well as day visitors to Jekyll, have declined more than 13 percent over the last six years. Now, with the promise of a modern, new hotel and others to follow, a major convention has agreed to return and others will come back.

Recent legislation gives the Jekyll Island State Park Authority the ability to offer long-term leases to attract quality redevelopment of substandard island facilities. Fortunately, a well-capitalized hotel developer has stepped forward with an expeditious plan to invest $90 million to replace the Buccaneer Hotel with a 540-room hotel/condo complex, with meeting space, restaurants and a spa. The new facility will employ 200 people.

The inaccurate AJC article refers to a fictitious, $10 million rent break. In fact, during its first 15 years, the project is expected to pay to the authority more than $15 million ($4.95 million more in rent revenue and $10.6 million more in hotel tax revenue) than would be produced by the current hotel lease. Additional sales tax to the state will be $13.3 million. Glynn County will receive an additional $10 million in sales tax and $10.9 million in property tax.

In summary, over the first 15 years, the new facility will provide an estimated $50 million in new revenues to Jekyll Island, Glynn County and the state of Georgia. The 18-month, $90 million construction project will provide jobs for hundreds of workers in the area. The new hotel is "win-win" for all, with the exception of one disgruntled, publicity-seeking board member and a few island residents who resist any and all efforts to improve guest accommodations and increase visitation.

This new hotel complex is an exciting first step in the revitalization of Jekyll Island.

By year's end, the authority will choose a private sector partner and begin a long-term revitalization plan for the developed portion of the island. The result will be greatly improved hotel, convention, retail, dining and entertainment accommodations, so all Georgians and other visitors will want to come and enjoy the beautiful beaches, and see the new Georgia Sea Turtle Center and the marvelous natural areas of "Georgia's Jewel."

The dedicated members of this authority, who proudly serve with no compensation, are committed to preserving the island's beauty and natural resources with environmentally sensitive accommodations.

Yes, we have our naysayers. But a few years from now, when the infrastructure is upgraded and we can offer a beautiful, greatly improved island experience, Georgians will appreciate the efforts that will return this precious resource to its crown jewel status.

• Contributing to this column were board members Steve Croy, Samuel B. Kellett Jr., Becky Kelley, Bob Krueger, Mike Hodges and Sybil Lyn.

• Ben G. Porter is chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.


Ben G. Porter is chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.