Friday, January 4, 2008

12/27 - Jekyll Island needs a change for the future

Date December 27, 2007
Section(s) Commentary

The exit of Bill Donohue, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, is a major loss to this community. Mr. Donohue, who has been an integral part of Brunswick and the Golden Isles since 1997, is leaving to assume his new role as director of the Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority in Northeast Georgia.

His departure leads all those who have been following the debate over Jekyll Island the past year to this question: What will become of state-owned Jekyll Island now and the controversial plan to return it to an ocean-side park that all Georgians can enjoy?

Mr. Donohue has been a level-headed and reasonable voice in what has blossomed into a statewide debate on the future of the only fully open and publicly accessible island and beach owned by the people of Georgia.

There are those who want it to remain as is, and there are those who want it to be more than it is. There are some who prefer something more in the middle of the two sides.

The fact of the matter is, the island cannot continue in its current condition. If it is to stay financially fit and strong, if it is to live up to the state mandate that it generate enough revenue on its own to meet its needs, then something is going to have to give.

Jekyll Island does not need another year where one of its main attractions has to remain out of service for an extended length of time simply because there is no money in the bank to effect repairs. Recall two summers ago when the wave pool, which gives the island water park its very name, remained closed for that very reason.

That might be OK for a small company with few assets, but it's not all right for a park that is owned and operated by the state of Georgia. Visitors and guests expect better than mediocre, especially if the state is truly interested in competing for tourist dollars.

The state, of course, has several options. It can do nothing and continue to allow the island to deteriorate to a point to where even fewer people want to visit it. Or it can continue on the track that it's on now with a plan to improve Jekyll Island's amenities with as many private dollars as can be obtained.

Taking a small part of the island and making it tourist-friendly does not, despite what critics say, put Jekyll Island on the same footing as Myrtle Beach, S.C. The two are worlds apart and will always be.

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