Thursday, August 16, 2007

08/15 - Good people on Jekyll

Date August 15, 2007
Section(s) Letters

Which heyday are you speaking of reaching?

I have read with great interest the recent letters and editorials concerning the fate of Jekyll Island.

My family resides in Alabama and we have vacationed on Jekyll for a number of years.

We are an "average" family much like those that Jekyll is presently mandated to be affordable to.

Rep. Steven Davis' latest comments beg the question, which heyday would he like to return Jekyll to? Is it the one over 100 years ago when Jekyll was an exclusive club?

It would seem to be that when you look at the proposals for new developement.

Some of the comments made in support of expensive hotels and condos seem to insinuate that the state of Georgia is somehow discriminating against "above average families" by Jekyll not having more expensive lodging.

Replacing affordable lodging with more expensive rooms only serves to exclude, not include, families.

There are fancy hotels and condo developements all along the Georgia coast,

I would hope that the JIA and Georgia's governing officials realize that presently they have a resource that everyone can use and enjoy regardless of income and will work to keep it that way so that visitors to your fine state will always have a reason to return.

Paul Patterson
Gurley, Alabama

08/15 - Senator expecting answers

Date August 15, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, says he's waiting for the Jekyll Island Authority to respond to questions he has about a past action it took and about the future of the state-owned island.

Chapman wants to know, among other things, what the authority hopes to gain by handing a developer $10 million in incentives to build and operate a new hotel complex on the island and how it plans to keep the island within the price range of Georgians.

Chapman is particularly interested in hearing what the authority has to say about the incentives it's giving Trammell Crow, developer of a proposed $90 million, 540-room hotel-condominium complex with meeting space, restaurants and spa. The development will replace the aging Buccaneer Hotel.

The authority approved a $10 million rent abatement package for Trammel Crow in July.

"I want to know how giving away $10 million helps them and helps Jekyll become what it needs to be," Chapman said.

Ben G. Porter, chair of the authority, defended the package earlier, noting that the new development will more than make up for the incentives because it will yield millions of dollars more in tax and lease revenue than the current facility.

Chapman also is concerned about any plans to replace existing hotels with high-end accommodations and the ability of state residents of average income to be able to enjoy one of Georgia's assets.

"I don't want the authority to lose sight of the original intent of this public asset," Chapman said. "It was bought for the average Georgian of average income. That includes an overnight stay.

"The board is obligated, empowered, to do everything necessary to make that happen."

Bill Donohue, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, said Chapman - who wrote the JIA a letter - will have his answer this week.

"I spoke with (Chapman) today and told him he would receive our response on Thursday," Donohue said Tuesday.

Chapman is not the only one concerned about affordability. Keep Jekyll Island Affordable, a campaign headed up by Jekyll resident David Egan, is collecting signatures everywhere it can to show Gov. Sonny Perdue and the authority that Georgians are watching what they do.

"In the brief span of time we've been conducting our campaign, we have secured over 2,000 petition signatures and survey responses on the affordability question, as well as over 100 pages of affordability-related commentary from Georgians across the state and from Jekyll's many advocates in other parts of America," said Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

The goal of the organization is 100,000 signatures.

"Even if we fall short of that figure, I believe we will be able to establish our point," Egan said.

It has established a point with the Altamaha Riverkeeper, which is urging its members to sign the petition and to spread it around.

"Our organization is deeply concerned about the JIA's effort to promote high-end and highly consumptive uses of the island, in contrast to more recreational activities," said Deborah Sheppard, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper.

"There is concern on the part of many residents that sweetheart deals by the JIA will run counter to any effort to make the island available to common people."

08/14 - A love-hate relationship

Date August 14, 2007
Section(s) Commentary

Walter Geiger

Guest Columnist

When I was a kid, my family took frequent trips to Jekyll Island.

Our destination was just an hour's drive south on Highway 17 from our Savannah home.

I can remember my excitement at seeing the signs for Jekyll just on the other side of the 'big bridge' in Brunswick.

I always tried to hold my breath going over the 'big bridge'. I was a teenager before I could make it across.

Of course, that bridge has now been replaced by an even bigger bridge that nearly requires supplemental oxygen to traverse.

Growing up, we went to Tybee Island all the time but Jekyll held a special appeal.

It had hotels named Wanderer and Buccaneer, conjuring up visions of Pirates, their ships and hidden booty in my fertile young mind.

Speaking of booty, I was traipsing through a wooded area just inland from the Jekyll dunes on one trip when I came across a couple on a beach towel in the throes of passion. I was too young to understand precisely what it was they were doing and they were too entranced with each other to notice my presence.

After a long moment, I left them to their embrace, wondering what it was I had just witnessed.

When I returned to school in the fall, a kid named Charles explained it all to me.

He was, after all, in the sixth grade and an expert on matters of the heart.

Jekyll also had the Aquarama with its huge indoor pool and a high dive to die for.

A belly flop off that baby would leave red whelps on your stomach for a week and a perfectly executed can opener would send a splash what seemed to be a mile in the air.

For whatever reason, my family quit going to Jekyll.

My trips there resumed when we began attending the annual Georgia Press Association convention.

We always looked forward to the GPA convention and still do.

GPA took thousands of journalists to Jekyll each year until someone down there botched our reservations for meeting facilities and we moved it to Hilton Head at the last minute.Suddenly, our horizons were expanded.

This triggered a fight within GPA that lingers to this day. Some publishers want resort standard accommodations which Jekyll, sadly, does not have.

Others insist we stay in Georgia or they won't participate.

I was vice-president of GPA during the convention when we used the Aquarama facility for meetings for the last time.

I had to preside over the evening's festivities and was nervously pacing outside the building while going over in my head what I was going to say.

We had checked into our room earlier in the day to find an elongated toilet with a normal toilet seat attached.

This enraged my bride and made toileting a tad difficult for me.

Others had endured similar experiences.

Sentiment to move the convention from Jekyll permanently was running red hot.

The Aquarama air conditioning was on the fritz and its huge windows were steamed over.

I watched as our colleagues arrived.

The men were in black tie. The women were dressed to the nines.

They gathered in groups of eight to 10 in the parking lot before entering the building.

Then, the automatic sprinkler system came on and drenched them all under its spray.

That pretty much knocked Jekyll off my list for good.

That was 15 years ago and Jekyll has deteriorated drastically since. Now its biggest annual convention is that of the Barnesville-based Georgia Rural Water Association. It's executive director, former Barnesville mayor Jimmy Matthews, says his convention takes in excess of 3000 people to the island."

There is only one decent hotel now.

All the rest don't have the cash flow to maintain their facilities," Matthews laments.

There is hope on the horizon, however.

The Jekyll Island Authority has finally seen the light and is partnering with private developers who want to tear down the old lodging and erect new, modern hotels with meeting facilities of their own.

The authority has drawn heavy fire from many quarters for an alleged 'sweetheart' deal cut with one development firm.

I say let the developers take their best shot at Jekyll.

The place is a dump!

Private developers can do it no more harm than Georgia's ongoing negligence has.