Thursday, August 23, 2007

08/23 - Jekyll board chief answers Senator

Thu, Aug 23, 2007
The Brunswick News

The chair of the Jekyll Island Authority, criticized around the state for recent actions by the board, says he and others are just doing their jobs.
Authority board chair Ben Porter indicates in a letter released Wednesday that the board of the Jekyll Island Authority is only trying to do what by statute it is supposed to do, and that's to oversee the operations of the island and make the state-owned park financially fit and independent.
Porter said that and more when defending actions over the past sseveral months by the board in a written response dated Aug. 20 to questions asked by Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick.
Making the island attractive to tourists and those looking for a safe place to hold a convention is the whole purpose behind the new hotels planned on the island, including the $90 million hotel, condominium and convention complex proposed by Trammell Crow as a replacement for the aging Buccaneer.
That remains to be seen, said Chapman, who received a response to his concerns about development plans proposed on Jekyll Island in a letter from Porter Tuesday – three weeks after he asked for it.
"Trust but verify," Chapman said, citing former President Ronald Reagan. He said he needs to read and digest the four-page response carefully before commenting on its contents.
That may take as long as a week, he said.
"They had 20 days to answer me," said Chapman, whose letter to the board was dated July 30.
One of the primary questions Chapman wanted answered regarded the board's approval of a $10 million giveaway to Trammell Crow, a developer based in Texas.
Porter said in his letter to Chapman that the board merely agreed to give Trammell Crow the same deal it gave the Jekyll Hotel Club during its redevelopment.
"The only incentive being used in this project is an escalating rent formula to be paid to the JIA commensurate with the private investment and the lease term," Porter wrote. "The JIA has a history of doing this.
"The Jekyll Island Club rent structure provided for no rent during its first 10 years of operation. Years 11 and 12 are structured as a fixed rent. After that, 3 1/2 percent of gross revenues rent structure is charged."
Porter said the arrangement made it feasible for private investors to finance the $19 million necessary to renovate the original clubhouse.
The incentive pledged to Trammell Crow has been estimated to be worth $10 million.
"JIA used a similar approach...for the Buccaneer Hotel replacement development agreement to induce Trammell Crow to make a potential $90 million investment," Porter wrote. "JIA used the rent structure for the land lease as the primary negotiating tool to achieve important goals."
Porter said the urgency of the situation is apparent given the island's aging structures.
"I'm sure you are aware of the critical nature of hotel conditions on Jekyll Island," Porter wrote in his letter to Chapman. "We can no longer compete to bring in conference and convention business to produce revenues vital to provide infrastructure services on the island.
"Further, the survival of the many small businesses that operate on the island is totally dependent on visitor traffic."
He also addressed the affordability issue – another issue Chapman asked about.
Residents and others in the state claim the authority is interested in bringing only high cost hotels – a situation that would put vacations on the island out of reach of average Georgians.
"That is neither the plan nor the objective of the JIA," Porter wrote. "We intend that a variety of accommodations will be available to meet the needs of all Georgians."

08/22 - Jekyll Island: Section(s) Letters

Slugline Jekyll Island
Date August 22, 2007
Section(s) Letters

Chapman should be applauded for his efforts to prevent the Jekyll Island Authority from awarding a $10 M gift to a developer who wants to build a luxury hotel on Jekyll. Many developers will build hotels affordable for all Georgians on Jekyll without a $10 M giveaway program. We hope that Senator Chapman will insist that this giveaway be approved by the entire Georgia legislature and not leave it to Ben Porter to cede Georgians right to an affordable Jekyll Island. Georgia families want to continue to use this State Park island as it was originally intended for our use. Bert Richmond, Athens, Georgia

It is rewarding to see that a politician actually cares about the average person. Many times people appointed to councils are those that have been influenced by people with money and power. These propossed Hotels will make money, they should be paying for an opportunity to do business, not being paid. Georgia has a plum with Jekyll Island,please don't allow others to pluck it.

Earl Porterfield,Lincolnton, Georgia

Editor: I want to express my concern relating to current development proposals for Jekyll Island and the cost to Georgians.As time progresses hotels need to be modernized or replaced just as many of us have renovated or added additions to our homes. That being said, in the case of Jekyll Island and its facilities the market for which new development is directed must be carefully addressed. Cost of use of new facilities must be within the means of every Georgian. It is their island and not the plaything of the rich and powerful.There can be no justification for the $10,000,000 rent abatement package. Either the developer recognizes the viability of the investment or not. To expect taxpayers to underwrite his cost of business would also lead a person to assume that those same taxpayers would be privy to a share of the profits taken by the new owner. Now, if anyone believes that is going to happen, let me tell you about the ocean front property I have for sell in Nebraska.Taxpayers are routinely sold the proverbial barrel of goods when it comes to attracting new businesses and industry that tax abatements will provide new jobs and promote commercial activity to benefit the entire community. Well, that about this: If that is so true, has anyone ever seen a cost benefit analysis that reveals a positive cash flow to the community taxpayer? The answer is no and the reason is that the homeowner taxpayer always takes it on the chin.There needs to be a General Assembly investigation into the offering of the $10,000,000 rent abatement package. Something smells and it isn't the fresh sea air.

David E. Wittenberg, Kathleen, GA

Thank you for the article, published on Wednesday, Aug. 15, entitled, Senator Expecting Answers detailing Representative Chapman's queries to the JIA. Keeping this story alive via current news reports will help keep our politicians accountable. As a frequent visitor to the Golden Isles area, I do consider Jekyll Georgia's jewel and feel we all have a stake in how its development proceeds. Thank you for keeping us apprised. I will continue to follow this story in your newspaper.

Rebecca Z. ValentineDecatur, GA.

Thank you for Hank Rowland's comprehensive article giving Sen. Chapman's stance on the Jekyll Island initiatives. There are many Georgians who are asking the same questions as Sen. Chapman. Hopefully, the grass roots efforts of those people concerned that the Jekyll Island Authority is moving in the wrong direction will make a difference.

Theressa Vincent, Atlanta

Thanks so much for your publication of Hank Rowland's article of August 15th. He has addressed an issue that should be addressed by people and papers across the State of Georgia. Unfortunately, it appears the Jekyll Island Authority and some politicians have been so blinded by dollar signs they can no longer see or recognize the original mandate which was; to keep the island available and affordable to the Average Georgian. I would hazard a guess that those empowered to make this decision are not Average Georgians and therefore we desperately need the oversite committee to step in and protect the interest of those Average Georgians who elected them to office. I plan to try very hard to attend the meeting on August 30th, but if unable to do so, would greatly appreciate your paper making my feelings known.

Larry Pickett, Jackson, Ga.

As a Jesup resident and a day-user of Jekyll, I still have concerns about what the Authority is doing. The island should no must be preserved as it was originally intended as a State Park - not subject to high-end commercial ventures that serve only a privileged few - many of them non-Georgians. The Authority must remember and honor the intentions of Georgia resident's when our State tax money was spent originally and honor the trust that was placed on them to protect and conserve the island for our use and enjoyment. Playgrounds for the rich exist all along the coast. Don't let JI become just another one.

Deborah M. Oder, Jesup,GA.

It is good to know that Senator Jeff Chapman is asking highly relevant questions on the proposed $10 million in incentives being offered to Trammel Crow to re-develop Jekyll Island. The Jekyll Island Authority should know that folks all over this state are waiting to hear the answers and that we will not be satisfied simply by projections of profits. The purpose of Jekyll Island is not to enhance the state's coffers, but to be an affordable place for all Georgians to enjoy the natural beauty of our coastal areas.

Mary Bryan, Atlanta

Although I live in Marietta, as a near annual visitor to Jekyll Island these past thirty years I am quite concerned as to the future development of the island. If we wanted lots of shopping, fancy accommodations, or organized activities we would have gone to St. Simons or Hilton Head. Jekyll Island has been an oasis of relaxed recreation in a desert of over-development. It has also been affordable. As it was intended to be when it was purchased by the state.

Your article Senator expecting answers, 15 August 2007 should have been published statewide. I'm sure that there are a large number of Georgians from all over the state who would agree to the statement "What Senator Chapman said goes for me too".

Arthur C. Hughes, Marietta, GA

Senator Jeff Chapman is not the only one expecting answers from the Jekyll Island Authority. Multitudes of Georgians share his concerns. It would seem that a developer, angling for a piece of prime oceanfront property, would find it necessary to present an outstanding plan with financial incentives to those who control the property. The $10 million abatement offered to Trammel Crow is puzzling. It hardly makes sense that the JIA, while on the one hand bemoaning the sad condition of current island properties, would be willing to give away dollars that could be used to polish "Georgia's Jewel". Who benefits most from this type of deal? Certainly not the average citizen of Georgia. I attended last month's Jekyll Island Authority meeting, which took place while I was vacationing on the island. I was one of four people who presented affordability concerns to the Board. Affordability is a rather complex topic to tackle within the Board's three-minute time limit. Some of the responses received from the JIA Board were:*Proposed developments will not adversly affect those who visit the island on day trips.*Those planning an overnight stay can use the campground.*New, affordable motels may be built in the interior of the island.*Those who cannot afford the new rates can find another place for their vacation.I have enjoyed time on Jekyll Island with my family, and with church groups, every year since 1971. If development proceeds as the JIA envisions it, I will be forced to busy myself with becoming rich, so that my family may continue to enjoy the island.

Rev. Greg Lowery, Rentz,GA

Bravo to Senator Chapman, who has asked the Jekyll Island Authority questions we would all like to have answered (Senator Expecting Answers, 08/15/07). I have, on past occasions, sent my own questions to the Jekyll Island Authority. They did not respond to most of my questions, and I was forced to invoke the Georgia Open Records Act to acquire public documents from them. The Jekyll Island Authority must be held accountable for their management of a public treasure. There is now reasonable doubt that Jekyll Island State Park is being managed in the interest of the majority of Georgians. Three cheers to Senator Chapman and to the Brunswick News for keeping this issue alive and in front of the public!

Babs McDonald, Athens, GA

Thank you for printing Senator Chapman's views and concerns. I share the concerns. I spent this past Fathers' Day weekend at the Buccanneer, and had a completely enjoyable and afforadable time. Building such a high-usage facility to replace it is contrary not only to common sense, but completely disregards the demands made on the biggest part of the issue, i.e. water and sewage treatment. I can see the day coming, if such high-usage numbers as proposed by the developer happen, when the entire system on the island would have to be replaced, and if I were a gambling man, I would bet that the state taxpayers would end up having to pay for it. We have already seen the results of rampant development on St. Simons and Sea Island, neither of which I can afford to go visit. Please, don't let them take away my last opportunity to enjoy coastal Georgia. Don't forget that, thanks to M.E. Thompson, I own part of thay island myself.

Frank Kilgard, Jr.Valdosta, GA

Don't let Jekyll Island become another place just for the rich. We come to Jekyll every year to enjoy the tranquillity & pet friendliness of the island. We can't enjoy our own beaches because most affordable hotels have been torn down & replace with million dollar condos. Please don't let this happen to Jekyll. Yes the aging hotels to need to be rebuilt, but please find a balance with affordable lodging for the average person and the high priced resorts. Don't adhere to the belief the only rich people should enjoy an ocean view.

Mary Kitchin, Clearwater, Florida

Dear Editor, Thank you for your coverage of the Jekyll island commission's actions. I am deeply concerned that Jekyll will not stay affordable for the average visitor and that will be such a loss for nature lovers of all kinds. Jekyll is a treasure that the Georgia government has responsibility to maintain for all the people and I expect it to do just that, not to use the island to increase revenues for the coffers or th line the pockets of the developers. Please keep this issue before the public. Thank you for keeping on top of this important issue.

Jo Hamby, Pine Lake, Ga.

I commend Senator Chapman for challenging the JIA's plan to redevelop the island and specifically for his implicit challenge to the assumption that "development" must necessarily be good simply because it brings in more dollars. It is difficult to see how the proposed development adds to the character of this unique Georgia resource but it is easy to see how that character might be spoiled for many Georgians if the development is allowed to proceed.

Cary Grubbs, Griffin, GA

It is with deep concern that I write about what I have been reading and hearing about future plans for Jekyll Island. Although not a resident of Glynn Co. I am a resident of anadjoining county and a life long resident of the state of Ga.I was under the impression that Jekyll was established as aplace where all Georgians, and others, could go for a reasonable visit or vacation. Has the JIA lost that concept?Can we now anticipate our state owned Island becomingan exclusive retreat for the rich and famous? I think I representa number of people when I say that I truly hope not.

The Rev. Julian L.Tucker

Jekyll Island is a wonderful asset owned by the State of Georgia and dedicated to the benefit of all Georgia citizens. Its great economic potential through development must not blind our leaders to the island's other essential functions. Its unique recreational value must continue to be available to all Georgians and other guests of the state. The vast "Mashes of Glynn", the long magnificent beach, the coastal forest of Live Oak and Spanish moss, the sky, the sea, the stars, the family fun, must remain intact and accessible to all.Of course us taxpayers want the Island to run in the black, but excess profit is detrimental to the real purposes of the facility.Thank you Senator Chapman for asking some important questions.

G. Wood, Fayette County, GA