Monday, January 28, 2008

01/21 - Jekyll economy may get boost

Date January 21, 2008
Section(s) Local News
The Brunswick News

Everyone's talking about what's headed Jekyll Island's way.

It's a future that includes new hotels, a new shopping district, new convention center - a complete makeover of the main commercial area that includes a sprinkling or two of condos.

The $441 million revitalization even played in an economic forecast announced Friday at the annual Economic Outlook Luncheon put on by University of Georgia's Terry School of Business at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. Don Mathews, an economics professor at Coastal Georgia Community College, predicted the Jekyll Island project will add spark to the economy in the months and years ahead.

Gov. Sonny Perdue also is looking ahead. He announced last week that he has included $25 million in his 2009 budget proposals for infrastructure improvements to the state park, much of it in preparation for the island's revitalization.

At least one business, Jekyll Pharmacy at 10 North Beachview Drive, is counting the days.

John Waters, owner of the pharmacy, remembers the tourism peak 17 years ago, when his store did 47 percent more business. He hopes redevelopment will return the island to a busier time.

"If we don't reverse things around there won't be any businesses to save," Waters said.

It will happen, but not happen overnight, says Jim Langford, project manager for Linger Longer Communities, Jekyll Island Authority's private partner in the redevelopment project.

If everything goes as smoothly as Langford envisions, the business community could expect to see the first influx of visitors from three proposed new hotels in just three years.

The final phase, which includes a new convention center, could be open for use in 2013, if no major barriers impede the process, Langford stresses.

There is opposition to the project in its current form and there is that request for a ruling by the State Attorney General's Office - a request made by Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick - on issues such as affordability.

Langford doesn't believe the argument presented to the state attorney general is valid.

Right now, he doesn't have time to worry about that. The company is too busy refining its proposal based on public input received and moving ahead with the project.

The next step will be to present a revised plan to the public in March for another round of input.

After that, designers and engineers will be brought in to determine which environmental permits are needed.

Linger Longer is still waiting for the Department of Natural Resources to provide permit area maps for the project area.

"Once we know which permits we need and where, then we can calculate that into our timeline," Langford said. "When we find out which areas will need permitting, we will proceed in other areas first."

Linger Longer's first phase of construction remains on schedule to begin as early as the first quarter of 2009.

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