Monday, January 28, 2008

01/25 - Letters to Editor

Date: January 25, 2008
Section(s): Letters
The Brunswick News

Changes on Jekyll will mean replacing stores

I read with interest that some of Jekyll Island's businesses are for Linger Longer's plan. Don't they see that all the stores that we know and love will be replaced with more upscale, modern stores?

Say goodbye to Maxwells, IGA, Whittles and the drug store, as they will all be replaced with Walgreens, Publix and the like.

Laura Renke


01/23 - Commentary

Date: January 23, 2008
Section(s): Commentary
The Brunswick News

Jekyll development plan still needs some work

I have read the editorial in the Jan. 11 edition and the accompanying article by Jim Langford concerning the proposed development of Jekyll Island.

There has been a lot of rhetoric on this project since its inception.

I am enclosing a copy of the aerial photo from the project documents that shows the area of great concern - the Town Center site.

The reason this is the area of great concern is a fairly wide beach area and the only accessible, useful area for public access.

The area to the north of this site has practically no beach at high tide.

The area to the south of this area is usurped by the series of four hotels or hotel sites.

Some of these are now under development. The area to the south of the hotel area is a dune area with practically no parking.

You have to give Senator Chapman credit for shepherding a bill through the legislature to save a soccer field and 4-H center south of the dune area from development.

This takes us back to the desirable beach area - the 4,000 feet of the so-called 9 miles of Jekyll beaches.

Some folks seem to be against any development - that ain't gonna happen.

The new hotels will be built. A new convention center and a new attached convention hotel will be built.

While they didn't ask me, it seems like a very reasonable location.

The village center will be built somewhere close to the convention center.

Whether it is on the beach or back off the beach probably should still be open for discussion.

The big item that seems to be problematic is the usurping of the public parking.

I have seen the statistics of 1-minute, 2-minute and 3-minute parking for beach access. In my opinion, ready access to the beach means 1 1/2 minutes to the beach.

I have seen many a large project outlined for construction. I have yet to see one come out with an opening plan that doesn't get worked over until it is even a better plan. This plan still needs some work.

Ross Miller
Jekyll Island

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.

01/19 - Despite national fears, local outlook OK

Date: January 19, 2008
Section(s): Local News
The Brunswick News

A Brunswick economist expects plans to invest millions of dollars in new hotels and facilities on Jekyll Island to be a major economic bright spot for Brunswick and the Golden Isles.

Don Mathews, economics professor at Coastal Georgia Community College, says the Isles will not escape all the shuddering going around the nation, thought it may fare better than other regions of the state and nation.

Part of his reason for optimism is the proposed revitalization of Jekyll Island, where Gov. Sonny Perdue is proposing spending $25 million in the state budget year that begins July 1 and a north Georgia developer hopes to begin work on a $452 million project next January.

"With the Jekyll Island redevelopment project exceeding a half of a billion dollars, the Golden Isles tourism and hospitality industries are positioned to be in good shape for years to come," said Mathews.

Mathews made his predictions Friday at the annual Economic Outlook luncheon sponsored by the Terry School of Business of the University of Georgia. It was held at the Jekyll Island Convention Center, which would be razed under the redevelopment plan proposed by Linger Longer Communities of Greensboro, Ga.

"We don't know what exactly is happening, but it's going to be big," Mathews said, referring to the debate over plans for new hotels, shopping district, condominiums and convention center at the state park.

Linger Longer Communities project manager Jim Langford has said that construction, set to begin in 2009, will create up to 500 jobs. Once the project is complete, another 500 hospitality jobs would be created.

Linger Longer is Jekyll Island Authority's private partner in the redevelopment.

Mathews advised the tourism industry to prepare for growth but, at the same time, to be ready to act defensively in 2008. The year could bring both opportunities and pitfalls.

Right now, the Golden Isles' sparkling economic jewels are tourism and the port, he said.

Port tonnage continues to climb. More cars, machinery and agriculture products are crossing the docks at the port - a trend that is expected to continue.

A 19 percent increase in tourism in the Golden Isles in 2007 is another trend that is expected to continue, he said.

"Tourism has been up all over the Golden Isles, particularly on St. Simons Island," Mathews said.

Not all industries have reported a banner year, though. Mathews said a weak retail market was surprising even to him. He said he expected a better showing with the addition of the Glynn Isles Market, at Golden Isles Parkway and Altama Ave., which includes popular national chain stores such as Lowes, Target and Pets Smart.

"With all of the new shopping areas added and the tourism boom, I was surprised that it didn't spill over into retail trade," he said. "But other factors play into retail, like the housing slump."

Residential construction is an industry that has seen better days. It's a nationwide trend that has hit almost every corner of the country, including the Golden Isles, he said.

Mathews doesn't see it improving any time soon.

"I believe it's going to get worse before it gets better," Mathews said. "We are not immune to state and national housing trends. It has been fairly severe."

If there is a bright spot, it's that the slump in new housing permits was not half as intense in Brunswick and the Golden Isles as it was in much of the rest of the state. There was a 20 percent drop in Glynn County permits compared to a 40 percent drop for the state last year.

Overall, Mathews told luncheon attendees he was cautiously optimistic about the local outlook.

Although regional economies have a high potential for growth this year, a great deal depends on the state's economic health, which could be in jeopardy, state economists said.

Georgia is at a 45 percent risk of falling into a recession, said Robert Sumichrast, dean of the Terry College of Business.

"The three recession triggers are housing, energy and drought," Sumichrast said. "Any one of these factors could tip that balance."

Nationally, economists are struggling to predict whether the economy is merely slowing or is headed to recession.

01/18 - County commissioner on track for Jekyll

Date: January 18, 2008
Section(s): Commentary

You have to hand it to Glynn County Commission Chair Don Hogan. Endorsing the proposed refacing of Jekyll Island, Commissioner Hogan said it's time to fix Georgia's "tarnished jewel."

Tarnished jewel - Commissioner Hogan couldn't have put it more clearly or succinctly, because that is exactly what Jekyll Island is. It is not Georgia's Jewel, as the state claims in its promotions. It once was, but it is no more.

Of course, with more people like Commissioner Hogan standing up for revitalization of the park, speaking in favor of making the island once again attractive to Georgians, the island will rise again to that status.

Plans Commissioner Hogan and the county commission endorse call for new hotels and a new convention center - a modern facility that can accommodate civic, governmental and business organizations looking for a place to bring their families close to the sea. It would be nice to see these people return. The Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer Communities have a design in mind that will guarantee it, and without touching any of the 65 percent of the island that by law is to remain in its natural state.

Needless to say, as is always the case anytime something is discussed for Jekyll Island and for the people of this state, the plan is not without its detractors - people and politicians who don't want anything on the island that might attract other people to Georgia's shore. They would just as soon leave the island as it is.

Commissioner Hogan feels the state can do better. He said as much during the meeting of the Jekyll Island Authority earlier this week in Atlanta. And he's not the only one who feels that way. Members of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, Brunswick and Glynn County Development Authority and those from the business community in general also showed up to voice their support for something that is long, long overdue.

Others need to let their voices be heard.

01/18 - Perdue cooks up half loaf for Isles

Date: January 18, 2008
Section(s): Local News

The Brunswick News

The state budget proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue is brimming with dollars for Jekyll Island but offers no relief for Glynn County's growing court caseload.

For Jekyll, Perdue is seeking $25 million for infrastructure and road improvements in his $21.4 billion fiscal year 2009 budget. For the five-county Brunswick Judicial Circuit, which includes Glynn and Camden counties, the budget offers nothing additional.

Ben Porter, chair of the board of the Jekyll Island Authority, said Perdue's recommendation of $25 million is a tremendous boost for the authority's revitalization plans and development.

"The bonds will be used to fund design and construction of public infrastructure improvements on Jekyll Island, critical elements in the revitalization of the island," Porter said.

"We appreciate the governor's strong vote of confidence in the authority's plans to improve and enhance the 'Jekyll experience' for all Georgians."

For the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Perdue's budget is a disappointment, but not a shock, District Attorney Stephen Kelley said Thursday.

The budget includes funding for additional judges in three judicial circuits - Cordele, Enotah and Gwinnett - but not Brunswick. In addition to Glynn and Camden counties, the circuit includes Wayne, Appling and Jeff Davis counties.

"It's not devastating because I knew it was a long shot that we would get a judge," said Kelley. "If we had been in the top three I would have had my hopes up."

The Georgia Judicial Council had ranked the Brunswick Circuit fifth in need of a new judge.

The governor submitted his budget proposal to lawmakers Wednesday after his State of the State message.

Kelley said a fifth judgeship would have helped his office manage its caseload of 3,000 cases because the state would have also assigned a new assistant district attorney and assistant public defender to the circuit. He said adding one more assistant district attorney to the 15 he already has would help with the deluge of circuit-wide felony cases this year.

There were 19 homicides in Glynn County in 2007.

There still may be some hope. Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien, said the proposal is not final and the recommendation from the Judicial Council of Georgia is not binding. He said the legislature could be convinced to move Brunswick up on the council's list while the General Assembly is in session.

"Brunswick has several unique situations which we will argue should be considered next week during budget hearings," said Lane, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

These include the circuit's Drug Court, headed by Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams, and the lack of a State Court in Camden County. Cases from Camden that would normally be tried in State Court must go before Superior Court judges in the Brunswick Circuit.

"I will absolutely be fighting adamantly (for a judgeship) because our caseload is beyond the need for a fifth judge," said Lane.

Kelley doesn't think the prospect looks very promising.

"The way the state goes about apportioning judicial resources doesn't make sense anymore," he said. "They only look at caseloads, but not at things like population demographics, crime stats and things of that nature. I don't think the state legislators get a true picture of what the needs really are statewide.

"The whole system needs to be looked at."