Tuesday, July 31, 2007

07/31 - Jekyll issues approaching boiling point

Tue, Jul 31, 2007
The Brunswick News

It may be fitting that as the height of hurricane season approaches, a storm is brewing on Jekyll Island.

Not only are members of the Jekyll Island Authority Board of Directors at odds with one of their own, but some residents are unhappy with leadership of the board and how deals are being made.

The issues are coming to a head, and some citizens and board members have goals in common while on other issues they are miles apart.

They include:
* The deal between the Jekyll Island Authority and the developer of a new hotel.
* The composition of the authority's board.


The aging Buccaneer Hotel at Jekyll Island's southern beach area is to be demolished this fall and replaced with a $90 million, 540-room hotel-condominium complex.

The Jekyll Island Authority Board of Directors has given developer Trammell Crow a $10 million rent abatement package that would be spread over the first 10 years of the life of the hotel.

Board member Ed Boshears voted for the abatement, but since has blasted it and his fellow board members by calling it a plan to eliminate affordable accommodations on Jekyll Island.

Tise Eyler, a former president of the Jekyll Island Citizen's Association, said no one opposes old hotels being torn down and rebuilt.

He said Boshears merely exercised his democratic duty to speak out. "Isn't this what our democracy expects?" Eyler asked. "Ed Boshears ... has constantly reminded the JIA Board that the state charter creating Jekyll wanted to preserve a beachfront experience to many who could not afford the increasing cost of vacationing at other beach locations."

Ben Porter of Macon, chair of the Jekyll Island Authority Board of Directors, has called Boshears, who lives on St. Simons Island, a "disgruntled, publicity-seeking board member" because of his criticism of the abatement package.

In an open letter to the community, Porter said the new hotel will pay more than $15 million in tax and rent revenue over a 15-year period. He said the state will collect an additional $13.3 million in sales tax revenue over that period and Glynn County will receive an additional $10 million in sales tax and $10.9 million in property tax.

But David Egan, who oversees the citizen's group Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said the board's logic doesn't add up.

"We have a highly attractive beachfront," Egan said. "It doesn't make sense to offer an incentive."

Egan said Porter's claims that the planned hotel will generate $14 million more than the existing Buccaneer Hotel is not news.

"It should generate more," Egan said. "It will be triple the size and charge double the rates."

Egan said the point is not how much more revenue the new hotel will generate, but how the authority – rather than a developer – could have benefited from that money.

Board composition

Egan wants Gov. Sonny Perdue, who appoints the members of the Jekyll Island Authority board, to take a long look at the group's membership.

"If there are board members who are acting contrary to Jekyll's affordability mandate and who are restricting public commentary on this issue and ignoring visitor input when it is given to them, then they should be advised to alter their course or step down from the board," Egan said.

Bert Brantley, a Perdue spokesperson, said the governor is watching developments and supports Jekyll's board of directors.

"The governor has confidence in the people who are on the board because of their combined record of public service," Brantley said.

But, he added, the governor is always receptive to public input and has no preconceived notions as to what Jekyll Island should look like.

"He wants what is best for Jekyll Island and the people of Georgia," Brantley said.