Saturday, September 8, 2007

09/07 - Senator rakes Jekyll panel. He wants better answers from the island authority.

The Florida Times-Union
September 7, 2007
Times-Union correspondent

State Sen. Jeff Chapman is asking the Jekyll Island Authority Oversight Committee to get better answers on how the island's aging hotels and amenities will be upgraded.

In a memorandum sent to the six-member legislative committee Wednesday, Chapman criticized Jekyll Island Authority members for their "lack of transparency and accountability" in addressing public concerns about island redevelopment.

Chapman, R-Brunswick, has previously asked the authority members why they awarded a $10 million rent abatement to developer Trammell Crow, how they plan to honor a mandate to keep Jekyll Island affordable to average Georgians and how they plan to keep details of their work in clear view of the public.

The authority responded to those concerns in an Aug. 20 letter to Chapman and during a meeting with the Oversight Committee on Aug. 30.

Oversight Committee member Rep. Terry Barnard, R-Glennville, said he has not received Chapman's letter, but he is satisfied the authority is doing its job.

"I felt the board thoroughly answered our questions [at last week's meeting]," Barnard said. "Unless there's something I'm missing."

Chapman believes, however, there is quite a bit missing from the authority's responses, which he called "disappointing" in his letter to the Oversight Committee.

Chapman continued his criticism of the authority's awarding of a $10 million rent abatement to redevelop the old Buccaneer Hotel. Authority Chairman Ben Porter had explained the decision by comparing Trammell Crow's rent abatement to a similar deal given to developers of the Jekyll Island Club hotel years ago. But, Chapman says, such a comparison is apples and oranges.

"The Jekyll Island Club building, a historic property of the state of Georgia, required renovation to historic standards, at costs significantly higher than those associated with new construction," Chapman said in his letter. "No such showing of need has been presented in the case of the Trammell Crow project."

Authority member Ed Boshears supported Chapman's argument, and said a contract made just a year ago to redevelop the old Holiday Inn did not include such large incentives. In that case the developer would make a 2 percent gross receipts rent payment for the first three years instead of the standard 3 percent.

"It's nothing like the deal we gave to Trammell Crow," Boshears said.

Chapman also criticized the authority for not making details of the Trammell Crow contract and rent abatement available until one business day before the panel voted.

Such short notice gave the public too little time to prepare to comment on a $90 million contract that includes such a substantial incentive, Chapman wrote.

"This lack of transparency is inexcusable," he said.

Details of three proposals to build a so-called town square center are also expected to be closed to the public the until the authority's Sept. 24 meeting. In a recent interview Porter would not comment on whether hotel rates in those proposals were affordable.

Chapman continued to criticize the board for a lack of commitment in keeping Jekyll affordable to average Georgians.

In his letter to the committee, Chapman recommended the authority renegotiate the Trammell Crow contract in public view.

This story can be found on at

09/08 - Jekyll Island builder deal fought. Senator wants $10 million rent deal rescinded > Metro
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/08/07

Sen. Jeff Chapman, the Brunswick Republican whose district includes Jekyll Island, demanded Friday that the state park's governing board rescind the $10 million rent break recently given to one of the nation's largest developers to build a new hotel.

Chapman also criticized the authority's "lack of transparency and accountability" as it begins awarding redevelopment contracts and questioned whether its secretive meetings are legal.

The senator's over-arching fear is that Jekyll Island Authority board members, who oversee the state park, will transform it into a well-heeled enclave unaffordable to middle-class Georgians.

"This is a state park. It's not about developing private property," said Chapman. "It's about allowing Georgians to have reasonable access to the coast and natural resources for recreation."

Authority chairman Ben Porter defended the board's actions and the rent break, insisting the process has been fair and legal, and that future accommodations will be affordable.

"Because of confidentiality and proprietary information, the information is secretive until the committee makes a recommendation," he said, "at which point the process will be totally public and transparent, and everybody will be totally satisfied."

On Sept. 24, the authority is scheduled to choose a master planner who eventually will develop hundreds of acres of prime island property. Three companies — Trammell Crow Co., Linger Longer Communities and Jekyll Island Revitalization Group — remain in the running. Each has submitted preliminary plans to redevelop the park's proposed 45-acre "town center" that stretches from the current retail district beyond the convention center.

"We have three excellent proposals and expect to come out with a fine plan for redevelopment to make Jekyll the premier, environmentally friendly destination on the East Coast," said Porter.

He added that the authority's decision last month to grant Trammell Crow – the Texas-based real-estate conglomerate that's also re-developing property along the beach – a $10 million rent break through 2020 is "a done deal."

Trammell Crow expects to tear down the Buccaneer Beach Resort by year's end and replace it with a 300-room hotel with 120 two-room condos. Hotel room rates could top $250 a night.

Chapman, in a six-page memorandum sent to Porter and members of the authority's legislative oversight committee this week, questioned "why would a multi-billion dollar corporation need to be induced into building a hotel complex on nine acres of prime oceanfront property?"

Porter has apologized for not allowing board members sufficient time to debate the merits of the Trammell Crow deal.

Chapman, board member Ed Boshears and Jekyll residents say lack of information and public input continues to plague the island's redevelopment.

No public hearings will be held before Sept. 24. The public won't likely learn details of the three proposals until after the winner is selected.

In an Aug. 31 letter to Bill Donohue, the authority's executive director, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation wrote that the authority "appears to have improperly conducted its public meetings [and] appears to be failing to comply properly with the requirements of the open records act."

Donohue said Friday that the board is "following the state's established procurement process" guidelines and to do otherwise would compromise bidders' confidentiality.

David Egan, an island resident and co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said he fears board members also will sacrifice affordability for big-bucks redevelopment.

"The ultimate goal is to keep the park accessible and affordable for most Georgians and visitors," said Egan, whose Web site,, advocates public participation in the island's future. "What's missing is how the needs of average Georgians are being met."

Porter said they'll be met.

"The policy of the board has been, is and will remain to offer all levels of accommodations for all price ranges in any Jekyll revitalization," he said. "Logic says a beachfront, ocean-view room rents higher than one a hundred yards away, so those economy hotels will not be looking at the ocean. I don't see anything wrong with that."

Chapman does.

"That type of thinking is very troubling and actually discriminates against the public's access to public property," he said. "Jekyll is no different than a public building. Sure, oceanfront views are valuable, but they're equally valuable to all Georgians."

09/07 - Chapman tells lawmakers to keep close tabs on Jekyll

Date September 07, 2007
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, says he is still unsure whether plans being made by the Jekyll Island Authority are in accordance with state law.

The law clearly states that the island should be affordable to a majority of Georgians, Chapman said Thursday.

He questions whether plans outlined by the authority, including a $90 million beachfront hotel-condo development proposed by Trammell Crow, during a meeting with the legislative oversight committee in August are in keeping with state law.

"That's the unique thing about the state park," Chapman said. "It has been described as being for plain people of Georgia. It should be available at the lowest rates."

Chapman says that and more in a letter to the legislative oversight committee, co-chaired by Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, and Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island. He urges the oversight committee in the letter to keep close tabs on the Jekyll Island Development Authority's plans.

"I cannot find any evidence that (the authority) has taken into consideration what I believe is the original intent ... of state law regarding affordability," he said. "Right out the gate, they're asking for a three-star hotel."

Chapman, who represents the island in the Senate, echoes the sentiments of residents on Jekyll. They, too, have questioned whether the proposed new look of the island will be within the financial reach of average Georgians.

"I want the affordability aspect of this state park to be reflected in their actions, and I don't want it after the fact," Chapman said. "I want it addressed up front, not after everything has been developed and accommodations built. Let's get it under control during the negotiations process."

Chapman said he doesn't know how to define affordability on Jekyll Island, where houses on leased land have been priced to sell at over $1 million. But he knows where to go to get the information: the University of Georgia.

"It is very capable of helping us define what is the average income in Georgia," he said.

It has been estimated that it will cost $170 per night per room at new beachfront hotels proposed on Jekyll.

"I can tell you it's not affordable," he said. "We can do better than that."

Chapman said he knows of hotels that are asking $90 to $120 a day per stay.

"And that's with companies that have very comfortable, modern facilities and that have to purchase the land," he said.

Land on Jekyll is leased, not bought. That gives developers an advantage, he said.

"Essentially, they're in a position to negotiate attractive rates," Chapman said.

Sen. Williams said Aug. 28 that the authority has said that there will be lower priced hotels on the island.

"(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."

To Chapman, that might be fine, but only if over half of the new developments can accommodate average Georgians at an affordable cost.