Thursday, September 6, 2007

08/31 - Jekyll authority defends its plans

The Florida Times-Union
August 31, 2007
Times-Union correspondent

JEKYLL ISLAND - The Jekyll Island Authority is asking Georgia to trust it.

At a two-hour meeting Thursday with the Jekyll Island Oversight Committee, authority members told legislators their plans to revitalize Jekyll Island's hotels and amenities would draw more visitors, increase revenue and protect the island's cultural and environmental assets.

The meeting was open, but the format did not permit public questions or comments. Committee member and state Rep. Terry Barnard, R-Glennville, along with state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, asked questions, however, that reflected recent public criticisms of the authority. Barnard sponsored the legislation that created the oversight committee.

Those criticisms include: The authority is ignoring a mandate to keep Jekyll Island affordable, a process to select a private developer does not allow any meaningful public input and a well-financed hotel developer was recently awarded an inappropriate $10 million rent abatement package.

According to authority Chairman Ben Porter, a planned 45-acre town square center will generate $70 million in revenue, create 500 jobs, bring $2 million per year in new tax revenue, and generate sales tax revenues of $50,000 per year.

Private developers began bidding on the town square center project this summer. The long-term private partner, to be selected in September, will develop the town center and will be offered a contract to manage Jekyll's other amenities.

Barnard asked the board to address the affordability issue raised by citizens.

Porter responded, "We do not intend to create a playground for the rich. The master plan will include a full range of bedroom accommodations and prices."

But authority member Ed Boshears challenged fellow members to go beyond making promises.

"I have asked the board repeatedly to address the affordability issues," Boshears said. "All we've been given is vague generalities. Let's be specific about this."

Boshears suggested any developer upgrading an existing facility into an upscale hotel should be required to provide affordable accommodations at another site to replace those that were lost.

Barnard also asked Porter to describe the process that will be used to select the private development partner. The process has been criticized for keeping all details from public view until the day the full board votes.

A selection committee of two authority members and two staff members will analyze and score proposals and then recommend their top pick to the board for approval on Sept. 24, Porter. If it is not approved, the selection committee may recommend another proposal, Porter said.

In a recent interview, David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island said allowing meetings of no more than four board members will prevent a quorum and close the selection process to the public. The authority has nine members. Anytime a majority of any public group meets - five in the authority's case - the meeting must be open to the public.

"It's definitely shut off from the public. No one is going to get a look at those proposals or find out any of the details until Sept. 24," Egan said.

Barnard asked the authority to respond to assertions that a $10 million rent abatement given to developer Trammell Crow amounted to a giveaway. Trammell Crow was awarded a contract to rebuild the aging Buccaneer Hotel.

Authority members said such rent abatements are normal when developers put so much of their own money at risk.

"You have to consider this developer's commitment, and look at every angle that affects the balance sheet," authority member Steve Croy said.

While all present agreed positive balance sheets were an important goal, Boshears asked the oversight committee to shift its thinking to other matters, too.

"Our name is the 'Jekyll Island State Park Authority.' We are a state park here," he said. "I urge you not to look at this as just a real estate development. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to build condos up and down the beach."

This story can be found on at

08/31 - Nothing promised in Jekyll discussions

Date August 31, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, thinks the majority of any new lodging on Jekyll Island should be affordable to the majority of Georgians.

But after sitting in on a meeting with the Jekyll Island Authority and a state legislative oversight committee Thursday, Chapman is not convinced that's going to happen.

He expressed concerns in a letter written to the authority in July and he resubmitted those concerns Thursday as he and a large group of Jekyll Island residents interested in the future of the state-owned island listened to authority members outline plans to revitalize the island's commercial assets.

The revitalization project calls for updated lodging options, boosting the island's current stagnant economic impact in Glynn County, and renovating historical sites, including some of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel's structures.

"There was no evidence presented that ensures that the facilities on Jekyll Island are going to be available to people with average incomes," Chapman said.

Residents and other citizens across the state harbor similar concerns. That includes Ed Boshears, a member of the authority board.

A former state senator, Boshears represented Jekyll Island when serving in the Georgia General Assembly.

"We are a state park," Boshears said. "Fifty years ago the Legislature made a decision for Jekyll Island to not be turned into a luxury resort to compete with Sea Island."

Sea Island Co. is world-known for upscale lodgings, including The Lodge - a five star hotel - and The Cloister.

"A lot of people come here because Jekyll is affordable and we don't want to lose sight of that," Boshears said.

The cost of overnight stays on the island wasn't the only concern members of the oversight committee heard.

Authority members sought to explain confusion surrounding the agreement the board has with Trammell Crow, a developer seeking to replace the Buccaneer Beach Resort with a newer hotel-condominium facility.

Criticism of the project was sparked this past spring when reports arose that Trammell and Crow was given a multi-million dollar incentive to revitalize areas on Jekyll Island.

The company is proposing a $90 million hotel and condo development in the footprint of the current Buccaneer.

Ben Porter, chair of the authority, said the $10 million figure was in reference to a rent abatement. He added that the practice isn't new.

"We're not giving away tax dollars," he said. "It's merely an incentive to bring businesses to the island.

"It's a standard graduated ramp up of rent over time for companies with a large investment."

During the meeting, it was also pointed out that the Buccaneer project was not bid out to other companies.

Authority members defended the decision, noting that the project is merely a redevelopment of property already leased by Trammell Crow.

Legislative committee members present at the meeting included Sens. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, and Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Reps. Terry Barnard, R-Glennville, and Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. Williams and Keen chair the committee.

08/30 - Letters Layfield

Slugline Letter Layfield
Date August 30, 2007
Section(s) Letters
Brunswick News

We are Georgia residents, Georgia taxpayers, and Georgia vacationers. Jekyll has always been a favorite; it is not another overcrowded, over priced, traffic-congested resort catering to anyone other than families and average Georgia residents. Unfortunately, as an average retired family with a limited income, we are unable to attend the meeting scheduled for August 30th. Therefore, we would like (as absentees) to express our concerns with the Jekyll Island Authority's (JIA) decision to give sweetheart deals to a company that would ordinarily pay for the privilege to develop a "resort" appears to run counter to any effort to make the island available to "the common" people. I am sure there are many reputable companies that would be delighted to offer alternative plans and perhaps even "sweetheart" deals to the state for the honor of developing (conservatively) on Jekyll Island. There must be eco friendly companies with the land, sea life, etc. that would be willing to work with the state. Has any of this been explored? If so, shouldn't this be advertised for comparison prices, and development, if nothing else?

Alva F. and Donna H. Layfield
Byron, GA

Slugline Letter McVeigh
Date August 30, 2007
Section(s) Letters

Take your time Jeff! It's not like the Jekyll Island Authority went out of its way to answer your concerns in a prompt, forthcoming, fashion. Let them sweat awhile! We 'average' folk have sure done our share of sweating lately. Guess they needed time to figure out how best to stall you and your supporters, who obviously are too ignorant to know what's best for OUR island! I personally want to thank you, Senator Chapman, for all you've done for the people of Georgia and this great nation to try to save what's left of our incredibly beautiful, peaceful, restful, windswept, wildlife-filled, wonderland. As a Brunswick native now living in Kentucky, I treasure every second I get to spend on Jekyll when I return home to visit family. Others have said it more eloquently, and with more passion, insight and vision, but we all share the same goal - to spare our beloved Jekyll Island from the unflattering, unrelenting, and unrepentent greed of those who can't see the beach for the sea oats. Fight on, Jeff! Your valiant effort has my utmost admiration and respect. Thank you. submit: Submit print_config: Name,email

Nyle Anthony McVeigh
Frankfort, Kentucky

Slugline Jekyll Island
Date August 30, 2007
Section(s) Letters

To whom it may concern,I am a 28 year old housewife with 3 children. Just this past weekend my husband and I spent our 10th anniversary at Jekyll Island here in Ga. We have been going to Jekyll since 1998 and I absolutely love it. I am from southern California so I love the beach but no place compares to Jekyll Island. I am writing because I was wondering if you could place an article in your paper about what's going on down there. Right now, the Jekyll Island Authority want to renovate the island and make it a place for the elite on the beach side of the property. Average income families can stay on the inside of the island away from the beach. Not only do they want to add luxury hotels but also condominiums along the beach where there is nothing at the time. My fear is that this will bring further development of the island. Right now, only 65% of the island can be developed at this time but, people are greedy and money talks. If you start redevelopment now, who knows where that will lead. My concern is also for the wildlife of this island. There is such an abundance of it, where will all the critters go? Where will the sea turtles lay their eggs? I would love to be able to bring my grandchildren to the island just how it is right now. I don't want to see 6 story high buildings or condos lining the beach. It is beautiful and undeveloped and it needs to stay that way. Its a state park, how can a state park be designed for upper-class only? I don't understand. I understand that hotels have to be remodeled but why should only the upper-class get to enjoy the beautiful beach view from a hotel room? Don't they have enough places to visit? Please help me out and put an article in your paper about what's going on. I am only a visitor to the island but I would have never known about what's going on right now if I hadn't visited this past weekend so how is anyone else in GA going to know? You can speak to David Eagan he is the co director of the IPJI(initiative to protect Jekyll island) his number is 912-635-2167 you can visit their website at Please help me out here, I am only one voice who has a concern for a place that I love but with your help, I can reach many other voices who love it as much as I do.

Heather O'Brien

08/29 - Jekyll already gaining an exclusive feel

Brunswick News
Date August 29, 2007
Section(s) Commentary

The Legislative Oversight Committee, the panel of Georgia lawmakers appointed to oversee the operations and plans of the Jekyll Island Authority, may have its hands full when it meets Thursday at the state park to hear what the authority has in mind for the island. Residents are upset that the very purpose for Jekyll Island, the reason the state is said to have purchased it decades ago - to provide an affordable place for every Georgian to enjoy - may be lost in all the plans the authority is making for the future.

Right or wrong, that is the concern of those who live full- and part-time on the island, as well as with a growing number of citizens who reside elsewhere around the state.

Jekyll already has a semi-exclusive feel to some. That comes with charging $3 per day per visit just to park and swim. That's almost tantamount to having a gated community, especially when it costs absolutely nothing at all to park and swim on St. Simons Island across the way.

Nevertheless, the $3 parking fee has not stopped Georgians, even ones on the lower end of the income scale, from going to Jekyll Island and enjoying what nature has to offer. Those who want to spend a day or two on Jekyll tend to overlook the fee.

Many low to middle low income families, though - and this can be verified - rarely stay overnight on the island. Many will make it a day trip. Those who do decide to stay overnight in the community will often search for something on the mainland, where less costly accommodations can be found. This trend will no doubt continue when new hotels are constructed.

Families often shop for bargain deals. It's what prudent families do to stay within their budget.

Cheap hotels on Jekyll Island?

That's not likely to happen. Forty or 50 years ago, sure. But today, with ocean real estate having skyrocketed and the cost of doing business going up and up?

Few would be willing to invest on Jekyll and settle for low room rates - not without a heavy, long-term subsidy from the taxpayers of this state.

08/29 - Jekyll panel seeks clarity

Date August 29, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

The Senate chair of the Jekyll Island legislative oversight committee says he's unsure what people mean by affordable accommodations and is all for improving the state's ocean park.

"I've had a number of people from the public who want to know about protecting the island for the average Georgian, keeping it affordable," Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said Tuesday.

"I'm not sure what these folks asking questions about affordability mean. We're not going to have a Ritz-Carlton over there, and we're not going to have a Cloister over there."

Williams and fellow members of the oversight committee - from the Senate, Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville and Ross Tolleson, R-Perry; and from the House, Jerry Keen, chair, R-St. Simons Island; Terry Barnard, R-Glennville; and Karla Drenner, D-DeKalb - will meet with the Jekyll Island Authority at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Convention Center to discuss plans for the island's future.

The meeting between the two comes at a time when those who own houses in the park and a growing number of allies around the state are expressing concerns about the kind of hotels that the authority will bring to Jekyll. They say they fear there will be high-priced accommodations that will be out of reach of most Georgians.

Williams said he and other members of the committee are not opposed to the thinking of those questioning the affordability of proposed developments.

"And from our conversations with some of the (authority) board members, they intend to have some affordable motels on the island," Williams said. "These affordable hotels may not be on the beach, but they will be there."

The affordability question arose after the authority announced that Trammel Crow, a Texas developer, is proposing to build a $90 million hotel-convention complex where the Buccaneer now stands. Critics of the proposal, which is part of the authority's revitalization plan, said this and other plans will elevate Jekyll beyond the financial means of average Georgians.

Williams said he checked the cost of room stays on the mainland, including ones on Ga. Spur 25.

"I asked how much they get, and their rooms are in the $100-$150 range," Williams said.

"I just don't think we're ever going to get under $100. You just can't build one on the ocean and make a cash flow for that."

Williams, who owns a house on St. Simons Island and who once represented Jekyll Island when it was part of his Senate district, said he supports revitalizing the island. He is aware of the problems, including the aging, run-down state of facilities.

He said groups and organizations do not meet on Jekyll for conventions like they once did. A group he is a member of, the Georgia Motor Trucker Association, is one of them.

"They don't even consider Jekyll any more, and these aren't high end-conventions," Williams said. "They go to Amelia Island, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. They want something clean and nice, and it's not Jekyll anymore.

"They don't want a Cloister or a Westin. They just want a reasonable priced hotel with a convention center and restaurants and some entertainment for their children."

Williams said the goal of the oversight committee is to make sure revitalization takes place within the rules. That includes no new developments on the south end of the island outside of existing footprints.

"Jekyll is a resource we have to upgrade," Williams said. "We can't just let it keep going down and down."

When the committee meets with the authority, only members of the two bodies will be able to speak. Residents and other organizations will not be given the floor.

That includes the Altamaha Riverkeeper, which is circulating a petition and urging members to attend the meeting and be heard.