Saturday, July 28, 2007

"07/23 - 'Sweetheart deal' alleged at Jekyll Plum for developer: Critics say state's $10 million rent break on such valuable land is absurd."

"07/23 - 'Sweetheart deal' alleged at Jekyll Plum for developer: Critics say state's $10 million rent break on such valuable land is absurd." > Opinion


Jekyll Island: Responses to "'Sweetheart deal' alleged at Jekyll," Page One, July 23, "Jekyll deal sadly a steal," Editorial, July 24, and "Jekyll revival to boost —- not rob —- state," @issue, July 25

Charge developers for crown jewel spot

I am certain that the Jekyll Island State Park Authority's business plan for redevelopment is "perfectly rational," as described by Ben Porter, chairman of the board. Except when it isn't.

In this case, there was never a more perfect place than Jekyll to charge impact or infrastructure fees for the right to develop on this jewel of an island. Instead of giving away $10 million in incentives, the authority should be charging Trammell Crow $10 million.

Incentives unwarranted

So Ben G. Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority, believes that Trammell Crow Co. and other developers need incentives to build hotels, condos and restaurants on the island? Since when has a developer turned down the chance to develop prime beachfront property?

The developers should have to pay for the privilege! That Ed Boshears recanted his support of the "sweetheart deal" for Trammell Crow Co. does not mitigate his or other board members culpability. As stewards of the island, they have the responsibility to make sure that before they cast a vote on any issue, they have thoroughly researched its impact. One has to wonder who, besides the developer, will profit from this deal.


Builder, not citizens, will enjoy low rates

People should know that the $10 million "incentive" given by the Jekyll Island State Park Authority to the Trammell Crow Co. to seal the deal for replacing one of Jekyll's oceanfront hotels will ultimately come out of the pockets of the island's visitors. They, after all, are the ones who will be paying to stay at Trammell Crow's pricey hotel complex, where peak season nightly room rates will average $250.

Furthermore, giving away $10 million of revenue to draw Trammell Crow to a property that is a developer's dream is at odds with Section 12-3-271 of the Georgia Code, which states that "all revenues arising out of the operation of Jekyll Island State Park shall be used by the authority for the sole purpose of beautifying, improving, and developing the park at the lowest rates reasonable and possible for the benefit of the people of the State of Georgia."

In the case at hand, the "lowest rates reasonable" mandate seems to have been applied to the benefit of Trammell Crow, not the people of Georgia.

DAVID EGAN, Jekyll Island

On the road to exclusivity?

While most Georgians are looking the other way, their island is drifting out of reach. The editorial on Jekyll Island was right on the mark. I attended the July meeting of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority, and did my best to address affordability concerns to that group in my allotted three minutes. Having visited the island frequently over three decades with my family and with church groups, I fear that upscale development plans will limit the ability of thousands of Georgians to return to the island.

Will input from average citizens of Georgia impact the decisions of the authority, an appointed body charged to serve the public interest? Will Jekyll Island remain available to the average Georgian? Or will this state property, by virtue of rising prices, become the exclusive playground of the rich?

The Rev. Greg Lowery is pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Cadwell.

07/14 - Major resort project on horizon for Jekyll Island

The Florida Times-Union
July 14, 2007
Major resort project on horizon for Jekyll Island
By Alison Trinidad, The Times-Union

The Jekyll Island Authority and three investors are nearing a $90 million deal to redevelop a beachfront resort that would be the first major hotel project on the Georgia barrier island in decades.

Led by Dallas-based developer Trammell Crow Co., the investment group issued a statement about the proposed project this week.

The hotel will replace the four-story Buccaneer Beach Resort, a 200-room complex that the developers bought out of bankruptcy about two years ago. Buccaneer Beach will remain open through Labor Day but is slated for demolition soon after. Construction of the yet-unnamed hotel, which is just south of the Jekyll Island Convention Center, is expected to begin by the end of September and be completed in 18 months.

The new hotel includes 300 rooms and 120 two-bedroom condos that may also be used as hotel rooms; 15,000 to 18,000 square feet of meeting space; a spa; and two swimming pools, said developer Earl Patton, a principal of NewSouth Partners LLC. Buildings will be no higher than five stories.

The announcement comes a little over a month since Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a bill that extends the authority's lease to 2089 and protects the southern end of Jekyll Island from being developed. The state owns the island and leases property through the authority to residents, hotel operators and business owners. By law, only 35 percent of the island can be developed.

"This is a significant announcement by the Jekyll Island Authority and the companies involved," Perdue said in a news release. "The authority is taking progressive, positive steps to bring new investments that preserve the natural beauty and affordability of the island."

The investor group consists of Trammell Crow, NewSouth and Global Asset Alternatives LLC. The three own two other hotel sites on the island, one of which has been razed and another that will undergo a $1.5 million renovation. Between those hotels, the group will employ about 400 people once the new resort is finished.

NewSouth and Global Asset Alternatives, both based in Atlanta, also are working on two other hotel projects in suburban Atlanta, Patton said. Patton said he and his son, Richard, helped develop the Sawgrass Marriott resort in Ponte Vedra Beach.

The developers have hired Cooper Carry, an Atlanta architecture firm that also designed the master plan for Jekyll Island's redevelopment last year. Patton said designs for the new resort will follow environmentally friendly building standards. He said the developers have held numerous meetings with residents to discuss the plans for the resort.

"Fortunately, we have good relations [with the citizens]," Patton said. "It is a beautiful beach. ... We want to bring back the meetings and conventions that have left Jekyll. We need to bring people back."

Created in 1950, the authority is in the midst of finding a long-term partner to help revitalize the island's tourism infrastructure, specifically to bring new stores to the site near the convention center.

Once an exclusive club for the rich that included the likes of J.P. Morgan and William Vanderbilt, Jekyll Island was purchased by the state in 1947 through condemnation proceedings to become a state park. Convention space, retail centers and beachfront hotels were built through the 1970s, but commercial development has stalled since.

Another development group has plans to build 200 hotel rooms on the site of a former Holiday Inn, but construction has not begun.

"These hotels are aging," said Bill Donohue, executive director of the authority. "We're not as competitive in the market as we'd like to be."

In the past six years, the number of visitors to Jekyll Island has dropped 13 percent, from 1.89 million in 2000 to 1.64 million in 2006, according to the authority. Authority revenue - which comes from lease income, visitor fees and hotel taxes - has stayed relatively flat.,
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07/19 - Some disappointed with Jekyll committee

The Florida Times-Union

July 19, 2007

Some disappointed with Jekyll committee

By Vicky Eckenrode,
The Times-Union

ATLANTA - Jekyll Island residents did not get their top picks when three state senators were appointed to a legislative committee to keep an eye on the area's redevelopment.

And it does not appear they will gain more allies when House leaders choose their three committee members.

The new Jekyll Island Oversight Committee was formed out of legislation passed this year to address redevelopment on the state-owned island and the extension of leases for its residents.

The island's existing authority that governs the property would have to turn over details about major lease and contract agreements to the legislative monitoring group.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle this week selected Senate Majority Leader Tommie Williams, R-Lyons; Senate Economic Development Committee Chairman Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville; and Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, to serve on the joint committee.

He also named Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, to serve as a nonvoting advisory member to the new Jekyll Island Authority.

The group will not include Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, who worked closely on this year's bill, pushing changes like protecting the south end of the island and representing Jekyll Island residents.

"I would have, of course, been honored to serve on the committee," he said. "However, it is in my district, so regardless of the fact that I haven't been officially appointed on the committee, I plan to be fully engaged in the process."

Jaillene Hunter, a spokeswoman for Cagle, said the island is an important resource for the entire state "and we wanted the committee to reflect that diversity."

"We are in close communication with Sen. Chapman and will continue to converse with him on this important issue," she said.

David Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said members of his group sent e-mails and made phone calls to Cagle's office urging him to appoint Chapman.

They also asked the lieutenant governor to consider Sens. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, and Regina Thomas, D-Savannah.

"We went 0-for-3 on that," said Egan, a Jekyll Island resident. "I think the Senate version of the oversight committee does not appear to be one to likely check development on Jekyll Island."

Egan said he does not expect to fare much better when House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, announces his three picks for the board.

The grassroots group also contacted Richardson's office, lobbying for Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, who initially proposed the measure to block development on the island's south end. They also pushed for Rep. Barbara Massey Reece, D-Menlo, a longtime advocate for Jekyll Island, and Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, because of his stance on increasing marshland protection.

Egan said he does not think any of those legislators will make it onto the committee, based on a recent message from Richardson's office.,
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07/29 - Jekyll developer incentive kicks up sand

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/29/07

Uproar over the Jekyll Island Authority's $10 million rent break given to one of the nation's largest developers intensified last week as some state officials, government watchdogs and island residents called for the incentives to be rescinded and the board chairman to resign.

A resident filed a state ethics complaint against Chairman Ben Porter, claiming "serious malfeasance" in the awarding of incentives to Trammell Crow Co., the Texas developer planning a $90 million hotel and condo project along the state park's shoreline.

An authority board member called Porter "a liar" and asked that he step down. A state senator wants a legislative oversight committee to review the deal.

Critics also asked Gov. Sonny Perdue, who appoints board members, to investigate whether the rent break was justified and whether the board acted in the best interests of Georgia's citizens.

While local and state governments routinely give incentives to spur development, critics question why Jekyll — a state park/barrier island with some of the East Coast's most untrammeled beachfront property — needs to entice developers with rent abatements. Roughly $200 million in hotel redevelopment is planned.

"We didn't treat it as rent abatement, but as an incentive to get a major developer to get going as quickly as possible," Porter said Friday. "We are absolutely committed to having a full range of affordable facilities and accommodations on the island for all prices ranges and all economic levels of the citizens of Georgia."

Meanwhile, board members spent the week excoriating each other via e-mails and guest editorials in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

'Liars,' or self-promotion

Ed Boshears, a board member and critic of fellow board members Porter and Steve Croy, both coastal developers, said the rent deal should be rescinded. He lambasted board members for misrepresenting the need for incentives.

"These people are the most shameless liars I have ever seen in my entire life," Boshears, a Brunswick attorney and former Republican state senator, said Wednesday. "They don't want Jekyll to [remain] as it has for the last 50 years – a place for average people of this state to come and stay, go to conventions or bring children to the beach. They want to rebuild Jekyll as an upscale resort."

Porter said "he was disappointed in Mr. Boshears' actions." Croy didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

The hullabaloo revolves around $10 million in rent abatements for Trammell Crow and partners through 2020, according to an analysis by the authority's staff.

Trammell Crow plans to build a minimum 300-room hotel with 120 two-room condos, a restaurant and a spa on 9.7 oceanfront acres where the run-down Buccaneer Beach Resort now sits.

In addition, Trammell Crow and a handful of other developers are angling to be chosen the island's "master" development partner. Preliminary plans highlight $3 billion in new hotels, condos, shops, restaurants and convention amenities.

The state bought Jekyll in 1947 and designated "a state park for the plain people of Georgia." By law, 65 percent of the island must remain undeveloped. Porter and other authority members say some future accommodations will remain affordable.

But Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), whose district includes Jekyll, is troubled that the deal with Trammell Crow does not include any language guaranteeing "moderately priced" rooms. A Trammell Crow official has said rooms during the summer would run $250 a night.

"The question remains, why did they have to give the $10 million incentive?" asked Chapman, who wants the island's legislative oversight committee to review the deal. "The location is very attractive to everyone who enjoys a visit to the ocean. It's not a remote location. It's close to a major interstate. I imagine that people would be very interested in having the opportunity to place a hotel there."

Last Monday's AJC article describing what Boshears labeled a "sweetheart deal" prompted a flurry of angry e-mails and name-calling among board members.

Croy sent a note Monday to all board members castigating Boshears for "shameless self promotion."

Croy also said Boshears "distorts the truth for nothing more than pushing forward a personal agenda at the expense of the other members of this board."

A day later, Porter penned an op-ed that said only "one disgruntled, publicity-seeking board member and a few island residents" oppose redevelopment of Jekyll. All board members, except Boshears, approved the column, Porter said.

Boshears responded in a Friday guest editorial in the AJC: "What Porter is really unhappy about is that I will not conspire with him to conceal the true facts from the people of Georgia."

Ethics complaint

On Friday, the State Ethics Commission received a complaint from island resident Joe Iannicelli claiming a "systematic series of ethical violations" by Porter.

Porter "rammed through a proposal to grant an undisclosed amount of concessions" to Trammell Crow," wrote Iannicelli, a former Glynn County school board chairman. "This extraordinary giveaway of Jekyll Island revenues ... suggests serious malfeasance on the part of Mr. Ben Porter."

Rick Thompson, executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission, said his agency will determine this week whether the complaint will be investigated.

Most Jekyll board members didn't learn of the Trammell Crow deal until the morning of June 18 when they were asked to vote on it. The board unanimously approved the deal, including the $10 million incentives package.

Porter, in his op-ed column, said the authority will reap $15.6 million more in revenues from Trammell Crow's project than it would if the Buccanneer were to continue operating the next 15 years.

Critics, however, say the comparison is not relevant because nobody expects the Buccanneer to remain open.

Boshears and another board member, after reading the Project Development Agreement between the Authority and Trammell Crow the afternoon of June 18, complained about the incentives and the lack of time to review the deal before the vote.

"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," Porter wrote board members June 28.

Neill Herring, a lobbyist for Sierra Club of Georgia, said Porter shouldn't get another opportunity.

"He should resign," Herring said. "He's obviously unqualified to run that authority. The idea that a motel operator for a beachfront motel needs a subsidy is absurd."

Herring, Boshears, Iannicelli, Chapman, the government watchdog Common Cause Georgia and others want the governor to review the authority's actions.

"If the governor were really on top of this issue he would not be too happy that his name and his credibility are associated with a board behaving the way this one is," said David Egan, co-director of the nonprofit Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

Perdue, in a statement Thursday, expressed "confidence" in Porter.

"Any kind of economic incentive to encourage development should be weighed carefully, on a case by case basis," Perdue added. "I will continue to review additional details of this agreement to see the business case for granting inducements."

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