Friday, January 11, 2008

01/07 - Jekyll worries condos won't boost tourism

The Florida Times-Union
January 7, 2008
By CAROLE HAWKINS,
Times-Union Correspondent

JEKYLL ISLAND - Proposed beachfront condos on Jekyll Island are being designed for use by vacationers. But development watchdogs worry they could instead become part of an upscale condo village if restrictions aren't strong enough.

Were that to happen, it would go against the purpose of redeveloping the island, says David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island.

"The point of these, the whole pretext for building the condos is we would boost island visitation," he said. "You're not going to boost visitation much if you have two owners sitting in a condo 52 weeks of the year."

In response to concerns, the Jekyll Island Authority, the island's governing body, has promised Jekyll's new condominiums will operate as condo-hotel units, not as residences.

"The intent of the Jekyll Island Authority is to ... maximize the use of any new condominium as lease and vacation rental property," said Ben Porter, chairman of the authority board.

The authority has required developers to physically design their condos to be attractive as vacation rental properties. Units must allow one room to be locked out for use as a hotel room, so owners can more easily rent them.

Also, the lease agreement between the authority and the hotel/condominium complex developer assesses a penalty if condo owners occupy their unit for an extended period during the six-month peak tourism season.

However, the authority does not actually require owners to place their property into a rental pool: That option is left up to the owner.

Those monitoring island redevelopment have maintained an uneasy silence over the hotel-condo issue until a November real estate promotion for the upcoming Trammell Crow condominiums reignited fears.

A news release announced that Trammell Crow's 127 condo units, called The Residences at Canopy Bluff, would be "the first new residential offering on Jekyll Island in more than 35 years."

Mindy Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island said: "You have to wonder what it means when the information going out to potential buyers is something that calls these vacation condominiums 'residences.' "

Mindy Egan said she called the real estate agent, Hodnett Cooper, for clarification.

"Pat Cooper told me, 'The authority cannot make the owner not live in something they buy. There'll be a surcharge and that will be the end of it,' " Egan said.

Developers' dream

Condominiums are a high-stakes issue with Jekyll Island redevelopment.

According to marketing director Eric Garvey, developers are keen toward building condominiums on Jekyll because they can turn around and sell these to private individuals for immediate profits.

"The developers would probably prefer to just build condos," Garvey said. "But we at the authority told them no, we want hotels. What we've done with the [hotel condominiums] is a bit of a compromise."

Trammell Crow's Buccaneer Hotel replacement will include 127 two-, three- and four-room vacation condominiums. Linger Longer Communities' town square center will include 277 condominiums. Unsuccessful bidders for the town square center project each proposed even greater numbers of condos.

Public's nightmare

On the other side of the issue, public opinion falls heavily against building new condominiums. A survey of more than 5,000 Jekyll Island visitors has shown than less than 10 percent favor new condominiums on Jekyll.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, who introduced legislation last year to prevent new private residences on Jekyll, said building condominiums that are used as private property goes against the grain.

"This is a state park. It's not private property," he said.

So far Hodnett Cooper is only taking $2,500 in refundable reservation money from those interested in the new Canopy Bluff condominiums.

Contract details won't be finalized until May, but Pat Cooper says the condominiums will likely sell as investment properties.

"Most of the people who have made inquiries have been investors. I've had 90 reservations so far, and I haven't heard from many people who want to live there," she said.

"You're in a hotel situation there, surrounded by other amenities. On July 4, when it's crowded, it wouldn't be so attractive for someone who wants to live there."


This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/010708/geo_232091580.shtml.

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