The Atlanta Journal -Constitution Articles 2008



Revitalize Jekyll but with Sensitivity   2/11/08

OPEN GOVERNMENT HEROES: BABS McDONALD and MINDY and DAVID EGAN, Jekyll Island activists: How many visitors does island get?   3/16/08

Jekyll Deserves Planned, Professional Upgrade  3/17/08

Jekyll Gets a Boost   3/21/08

Develop Right Priorities for Jekyll   3/25/08

Jekyll Hotel/Condo Plan Revised   4/2/08

Threat to Jekyll's Maritime Forest   4/27/08

Jekyll Island Nearing Development Limit   12/17/08

Jekyll Island Develolpment: Pro and Con Guest Editorials   12/18/08







Jekyll Island: Revitalize, but Sensitively

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Guest Editorial by David Egan
Published on: 02/11/08

On Feb. 6, state Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) introduced three bills on Jekyll Island. The bills, which prohibit development along Jekyll Island State Park's remaining open beachfront and help ensure that the park is revitalized in a responsible fashion, bring to a head a controversy that's been brewing for nearly a year. A brief review of "developments" on Jekyll in recent months shows why Chapman's legislative initiative has become necessary and is so welcomed by Jekyll's friends.

Everyone agrees that Jekyll Island State Park is in need of revitalization. Its oceanfront hotels have deteriorated, public dissatisfaction with its lodgings has grown, and visits have fallen off.

Unfortunately, the Jekyll Island Authority made a decision some months ago that revitalization requires not just hotel reconstruction but an oceanfront "town center" as well. Accordingly, the JIA is now considering a proposal by a private developer —- Linger Longer Communities —- that would create a condo/time share/hotel community along the island's most popular public beach.

Even though public opinion is running strongly against the proposed town center complex, LLC is marketing the project as something Jekyll needs and the people of Georgia want. Citing a 47 percent decline in visitation to Jekyll over the past decade, LLC says its Jekyll Village is necessary if Georgians are to "rediscover Jekyll."

Truth be told, most of the reported 47 percent drop in visitation comes from a change in the JIA's traffic-count method. Beginning in 1997, the JIA stopped including vehicles with annual passes as part of its traffic count, leading to an artificial drop of 40 percent in visitation (1.5 million people) in that year alone. The facts show that when the change in traffic-count methodology is taken into account, the real drop in visitation since 1997 has been 12 percent, not 47 percent.

Even if there were a 47 percent drop in visitation, there isn't any evidence that Georgians are longing for a town center and would "rediscover Jekyll" if only the island had a "commercial hub," as LLC claims. In fact, visitor opinion, as recorded in a series of surveys reaching more than 8,000 people, says "no" to a more commercialized Jekyll and "yes" to revitalization that is in harmony with Jekyll's feel and grace.

Visitor opinion also says hotel reconstruction will revitalize Jekyll and should be completed before the JIA thinks about more development. The hotels that have been rebuilt in recent years enjoy fill rates nearly double those of the hotels in disrepair and waiting for redevelopment. Five other hotels will be rebuilt over the next five years. When hotel redevelopment is completed, Jekyll will have nearly twice as many hotel rooms and condos as it does now, and a projected increase in revenue of more than $3 million per year for the JIA.

The JIA has labeled the critics of the town center proposal as "obstructionists" who are opposed to all change. The truth is that Jekyll's visitors stand for responsible revitalization. They support hotel and convention center redevelopment, the enhancement of the island's amenities and recreational opportunities, the further development of Jekyll's nature tourism potential and a ban on new development near Jekyll's environmentally sensitive areas, particularly the beachfront of this delicate barrier island.

In a representative democracy, elected leaders must be sensitive to the will of the people if democracy is to have any meaning at all. Chapman clearly understands this bedrock principle of representational government. His Jekyll bills were born in response to public sentiment, clear the way for the revitalization of public property and benefit the vast majority of our state's citizens.

A senator acting on behalf of the general will is what good government is all about. Now it is up to the people of Georgia to do their part by urging lawmakers to support Chapman's Jekyll bills. Please visit www.savejekyllisland.org for information on how to proceed in this regard.

David Egan is co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park.


OPEN GOVERNMENT HEROES: BABS McDONALD and MINDY and DAVID EGAN, Jekyll Island activists: How many visitors does island get?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By Lori Johnston
Published on: 03/16/08

Babs McDonald realizes that open government comes with a price.

Earlier this year, McDonald, who lives in Athens, requested documents from the Jekyll Island Authority concerning sharp declines in the number of people visiting the island.

The information she wanted was not in one file, the authority responded, but she was free to examine all the files she wished—186 boxes containing 1,000 pages each, at a cost of $425. Or she could order copies of everything, which would come to $46,500.

"I could just imagine myself walking into a room with a monitor, i.e. guard, and looking at these boxes. Where would I begin?" said McDonald, who works for the U.S. Forest Service. "As a citizen of the state and as a scientist, I believe they ought to be held accountable for sharing how they arrived at those figures. I can't imagine that the information would be on 180,000 pieces of paper."

Eric Garvey, senior director of marketing and business development for the authority, said the authority's staff was not able to reasonably fulfill McDonald's request.

"She wanted all these archived documents. It was unfortunate that it did seem like a lot of money," he said.
McDonald and others involved in the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, which claims 10,000 members, are concerned about plans for a giant $352 million redevelopment of the island by Linger Longer Communities. The plan envisions a "town center" built on 63 acres on Jekyll with hotels, condominiums, time shares, a convention center and a retail center. It also calls for park space and an environmental education center.
Opponents say the authority, known as the JIA, has not been forthcoming in responding to requests for information related to the project.

Garvey dismisses those charges.

"Not only does the Jekyll Island Authority take its responsibility to open government seriously with respect to documents, we also answer any correspondence we receive," he wrote in an e-mail to the AJC. "We understand we are a public entity, and if someone requests a document, most often times it is just handed to them. We do get more formal requests from time to time, and those we log and coordinate responses with our representative from the attorney general's office."

David and Mindy Egan are the founders and co-directors of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island. Part of the Egans' argument about the Linger Longer redevelopment plan is that the JIA has understated the number of visitors to Jekyll as a way of showing that the island is in need of redevelopment.

David Egan says visitation has not declined by 47 percent between 1996 and 2007, as the JIA reported, but by 15 percent.

In addition, the group is often told that information it wants from the JIA is not available, Egan says, or the information is not provided in a timely fashion.

The activist said he has not received a response to questions submitting in writing earlier this year about the original master plan for a 24-acre development, which now has more than doubled in size. When he asked that question at a board meeting in January, he says he was told to submit the request in writing.

"You get a question that people don't want to answer, and the response is, 'Stick it in writing.' You stick it in writing, and it dies," he said.

Garvey, the JIA's marketing chief, said the authority has "no record of receiving this question in a letter or in e-mail." He added that "we reject the charge that the JIA is not responsive to the public, and we are prepared to demonstrate our responsiveness with copies of our log, copies of correspondence, etc."

The Egans have set up a Web site —- savejekyllisland.org —- and have become lightning rods in the debate over Jekyll's future. They joined forces with McDonald in Athens and also found an ally in Atlantan Dory Ingram, a frequent Jekyll visitor who worries about the barrier island.

"Mindy and David have been completely dedicated to seeing that the visitors to Jekyll Island and the people of Georgia get their say" about development on the island, Ingram said. "This year, we've become a pretty prominent voice. It's obvious that somebody out there is listening and is aware that the people are trying to make their voice heard."

Babs McDonald, meanwhile, believes the Georgia Open Records Act is a vital tool. It was passed "so that government can be accountable, even when it doesn't really want to be accountable," she said.

"I guess I wish that the people of the state would demand, because it is their state park, that the JIA open up its records," McDonald said. "If they can't, I think we ought to say, 'Uh-uh, you can't do this kind of project and not be accountable for the numbers.' "


Our Opinions: Jekyll Island deserves a planned, professional upgrade

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Our Opinions by Jay Bookman
Published on: 03/17/08

After a few days playing golf at Jekyll Island State Park this month, two things became painfully clear:
My golf game needs some major rehabilitation.

So does a lot of the island.

Jekyll is a special place, with lots of history and natural beauty, not to mention reasonably priced golf courses. And although it is hardly unspoiled, it is far less commercialized than other coastal resorts such as St. Simons and Hilton Head.

It is also a lot less expensive, the only resort along the coast that is still affordable to the majority of Georgians.

However, much of Jekyll's infrastructure —- its motels, its commercial district and restaurants, its convention center —- is outmoded and in decline. Visits to the island have been falling slowly over time as a result.

In response, the Jekyll Island Authority —- charged with running the park —- has committed to upgrade those facilities. Its goal is "to revitalize the island in a comprehensive way," says Eric Garvey, the authority's director of marketing.

Unfortunately, that's not what's happening. There is no comprehensive, overall plan for revitalizing Jekyll. Instead, it is occurring in a slapdash, piecemeal, unplanned fashion that endangers what makes the island special.

How many more hotel rooms can the island sustain without compromising its laid-back charm? How many peak-season visitors can it handle? What proportion of rooms should be priced for economy visitors? There are no answers to those and other important questions, a fact that has raised understandable alarm among those who love the island.

According to Garvey, the authority has plans to commission a company to conduct a study and then write a report to address such questions. But while preparations for plans to study are under way, the authority has already committed to major projects that have the potential to dramatically alter the island's character, including construction of more than 1,000 new hotel rooms and condominium units near the island's most popular beach. Several other expansions are also under way or planned, with others yet to come.

Taken separately, those projects may have merit. But on a small island such as Jekyll, they will not be experienced separately. Those developments and subsequent projects will have a cumulative and unknown impact. And while state law does limit development to 35 percent of the island, there is no limit on the density of that development.

The slapdash, amateurish nature of the revitalization effort is also apparent in how the authority has handled criticism of its efforts. The authority's nine-member board of directors is a public body, entrusted with a cherished public asset, and as such it has to expect to be the target of criticism. If some of that criticism has seemed unfair to authority members ... well, that comes with the territory. But rather than lance such suspicion with openness, it has reacted with anger and denial.

At the moment, that suspicion is being fueled by data purportedly showing a 47 percent decline in car traffic to the island since 1996. The number is cited often to justify major changes.

However, even a cursory look at the source of that number tells you it is bogus. Nonetheless, board members and authority staff have responded angrily and unprofessionally to those who have challenged it. Even now, the authority refuses to acknowledge that the number is wrong, as if any concession to their critics is impossible.

"I can't say it is and I can't say it isn't," Garvey said last week.

In itself, the number isn't all that important. But the way it is being mishandled explains a lot about the suspicions generated in this controversy.

Everyone agrees that visits to Jekyll are down; everyone agrees that its infrastructure needs updating. An authority more open to the public, more professional in its approach and less arrogant in its operations would be able to build on that agreement and accomplish something important.

Jay Bookman is deputy editorial page editor. His column runs Monday and Thursday. (jbookman@ajc.com)


Jekyll Island Gets Boost
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Dan Chapman

Published on: 03/21/08
Protection of Jekyll Island's pristine main beach received a legislative boost Thursday when the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee voted to keep the 1/2 mile stretch of sand development-free.

However, many legislative and political hurdles remain for those who want to prevent condos and hotel rooms from lining the beach near the entrance to the state park, as a developer proposes.

"Part of our coast is under attack right now," said Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), whose amendment to Senate Bill 367 passed 9-8. The coastal management measure "would keep open the only remaining beach on Georgia's coast that citizens can drive up to."
Now, some of the island's hotels, shops and recreational offerings wear the worn look of an old couch. Developer Linger Longer proposes a $352 million "town center" project —- condos, hotel rooms, time-share units, shops, restaurants and green space —- on 64 acres between Jekyll's dunes and maritime forest.
But public opinion is mixed on the developer's plans for the 7.5-mile-long barrier island. Linger Longer says it will unveil soon a scaled-back project.
The Jekyll Island Authority, which manages the state park, must approve any development and sign a contract with Linger Longer. Buckner and other legislators, however, don't trust the authority to do the public's bidding.
"It's the public's park. It's their land. It's their property rights," Buckner said. "So it's our responsibility to help them in their efforts to protect what they hold dear."
The legislation prohibits development along 2,500 feet of beach north of the island's convention center.
The bill's next stop is the House Rules Committee, whose members typically vote with the House leadership, most of whom already have given public support to Jekyll redevelopment.
Sen. Ross Tolleson (R-Perry), who sponsored SB 367, vowed to fight the amended bill in House Rules as well as later on the Senate floor, if necessary.
"I'd like to see Jekyll Island redeveloped," Tolleson said in a brief interview. "A lot of people just don't go there anymore."
If stymied in Rules, Buckner said she might play another legislative card by taking a similar measure to the House floor, in a ploy used successfully last year to protect Jekyll's south end from development.
"If we get it to the floor, we'll have a majority of votes in both houses" to protect the beach, Sierra Club lobbyist Neill Herring said. "Yeah, I'm optimistic."


OUR OPINIONS: Develop right priorities for Jekyll

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Jay Bookman
Published on: 03/25/08

Sometimes, important government decisions do more than determine the outcome of a particular controversy. They take on a larger symbolic value and make a statement about public priorities and values.

Certainly, that's the case with decisions involving Jekyll Island State Park, which state officials are trying to redevelop without diminishing the island's unique appeal. While there's broad agreement that redevelopment is necessary and overdue, the extent of redevelopment is very much a matter of debate.

As legislators ponder Jekyll's fate, they ought to ask themselves a question:
What would it say about Georgia and its priorities if we took the last open stretch of public beach in the state —- a half-mile stretch of property that is supposedly protected as a state park —- and convert it to condo units and hotels, as is now being proposed? What would that say about the things that Georgia holds dear, and about its commitment to preserve assets for future generations?

Under an amendment approved last week in the House Natural Resources Committee, development would be barred along roughly 2,500 feet of now open beachfront north of Jekyll's convention center.

However, chances of that provision being enacted into law are mixed at best, because that property is so highly treasured by developers. It plays a key role in a redevelopment project proposed by Linger Longer Inc. and approved in draft form by the Jekyll Island State Park Authority.

If enacted into law, the development ban —- sponsored by state Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) —- would force a significant redesign of the Linger Longer project. Expected revenue from the project would decline, as would the number of overnight visitors the project is likely to attract.

However, the intent of a redevelopment plan for Jekyll Island should not be to maximize revenue or even visitation. The No. 1 priority should be to preserve and enhance the natural resource. If we give any other goal a higher priority, it says something less than flattering about us as a state.

—- Jay Bookman, for the editorial board (jbookman@ajc.com)



Jekyll Island hotel/condo plan revised
Park, conservation center now proposed for disputed area

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By JIM GALLOWAY
April 02, 2008

After a lengthy fight in the Capitol and with residents on the coast, a public-private partnership to remake state-owned Jekyll Island has backed away from plans to place hotels and condos on a massive parking lot that for decades has given Georgia vacationers access to a popular beach.

Instead, the acreage will be changed to include a park and an environmental conservation center, the latter originally planned for elsewhere on the island. The condos and hotels will be relocated.

"After conferring with our revitalization partner, Linger Longer Communities, we have made the decision to limit use of this area to those public purposes and not development of accommodations, such as hotels and condominiums," according to a letter from Ben Porter, chairman of the Jekyll Island Authority, to House Majority Leader Jerry Keen.

The island authority now plans to "re-establish native growth and improve the dune structure" in the area as well, Porter wrote.

The decision announced Wednesday affects just a small portion of the $352 million effort to upgrade island facilities, many of which have lapsed into disrepair.

But it delivers a happy ending to a short and strange chapter that saw local residents, annual vacationers and environmentalists banding together to save an admittedly unattractive and crumbling piece of pavement -- located just north of a convention center that is also unattractive and crumbling
.
The letter was released in order to fend off more legislative attempts to restrict Jekyll developers, in the final days of the current session of the General Assembly. None has been successful, but the efforts have generated thousands of telephone calls and e-mails to lawmakers since January.

"This was simply the right thing to do," said Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), who led the fight to reduce the footprint of Jekyll Island's redevelopment. "We're very excited for the public."

State Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) took up the cause in the House. "We're very happy, and it wouldn't have happened without the thousands of people who called and e-mailed," Buckner said.

Critics of the development, fearful that it would put Jekyll out of the price range of many Georgians, had argued that the parking lot symbolized the commitment made by the state when the island was purchased, to keep it accessible to "people of average income."

On Jekyll Island, residents David and Mindy Egan are co-directors of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, which boasts an e-mail list of 7,000 supporters, a mix of environmentalists, island residents and vacationers.
"I have to admit everybody's thrilled," David Egan said. While Egan did not discount the impact of public opinion, he said the change in plans might have had more to do with the federal regulation of beach property.

In his letter, the authority chairman, Porter, said the state Department of Natural Resources "has recently established" that the stretch of beach in question is covered by the Georgia Shore Protection Act.
"Permits will be required for any redevelopment of this area," he wrote.

Egan said Jekyll authorities and Linger Longer, a development firm with major Republican ties, probably realized that court challenges to those permits could tie up the redevelopment project for years.

Efforts to contact Porter and a spokesman for the Jekyll Island Authority were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Both Egan and Chapman, the state senator from Brunswick, said they would have to see new blueprints of the development plans before they could declare victory.


.

The Battle of Jekyll Island isn't over

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By DAN CHAPMAN
Published on: 04/27/08

A string of beachfront condos and hotel rooms were recently purged from a $352 million development, and its opponents claimed victory. But builder Linger Longer has its eye on another of the state park's natural assets — part of the lush maritime forest.

THE STORY SO FAR

• Previous: Developer Linger Longer proposes a $352 million project with hundreds of condos, hotel rooms, time-share units, shops, parks and more.

• Latest: Developer backs off a plan to build hotel and condos along a half-mile stretch of beachfront property after learning state environmental rules could create a lengthy and litigious battle.

• What's next: Linger Longer to unveil a revised plan, perhaps next month.


Details of the developer's revised 64-acre condo-hotel-retail project will not be publicly unveiled for at least a month. But critics are gearing up to fight any incursion into the so-called "maritime swamp forest" that includes a rare freshwater wetland, unique flowers, ferns, trees and, possibly, historical dump sites.

"Maritime forests are extremely rare and getting more so all the time," said David Kyler, executive director of the nonprofit Center for a Sustainable Coast. "We don't think any of it is expendable, especially at a state park accessible by causeway."

Developer Jim Langford cautions critics not to pre-judge the newest proposal, which he said will minimize any impact on the maritime forest.

"I have seen a lot of speculation by a lot of people who know nothing about what's going on," Langford said. "While that may be fun for some people to indulge in, I don't think it's very productive for anybody."

The Jekyll Island Authority selected Linger Longer in September to help redevelop the barrier island near Brunswick. The Greensboro-based builder proposes hundreds of hotel rooms, condos and time-share units sandwiched between the island's marsh-side entrance and the Atlantic Ocean, less than a mile away.

The beachside convention center will be torn down and rebuilt inland with taxpayer money. A frayed shopping district, between the entrance and the beach, will be replaced. Linger Longer also plans to build a luxury hotel, town squares, parks, trails and an environmental education center.

Replacing some of the island's run-down lodging and retail establishments is supported by many Georgians. Hotels and condos, separate from Linger Longer's project, are under construction or planned.

But many Georgians, according to informal polls, public comments and interviews, oppose Linger Longer's project, particularly its size, location and impact on Jekyll's natural environment. Critics also don't believe the state park will remain affordable to "average Georgians," as state law mandates.

In August, Linger Longer unveiled its pastel-colored proposal, which included a mile-long stretch of hotel and condo construction along the beach. State Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick), whose district includes Jekyll, claimed a popular swath of beachfront property north of the convention center would be rendered inaccessible to day-tripping visitors. Linger Longer disagreed.

Along with Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), Chapman introduced legislation earlier this year to keep Linger Longer off that stretch of beach. Neither legislator succeeded.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources determined that a shoreline permit would be needed to build there. The prospect of a lengthy, and litigious, regulatory battle helped persuade Linger Longer to abandon a 2,500-foot stretch of beachfront property. The developer can still build upon an adjoining half-mile stretch of beach.

David Egan, co-director of the nonprofit Initiative to Protect Jekyll, who helped galvanize public opposition to the beachfront development, said the victory could prove short-lived if Linger Longer's 64-acre project is pushed westward into the maritime forest.

"I don't get the sense from speaking with people at Linger Longer that the project will get smaller. The profit picture needs to stay pretty much the same," he said.

Langford sought to allay fears of any wholesale penetration into the forest that runs the length of the island.
"What we've said consistently is that we'd try to minimize any impact on the maritime forest," Langford said. Initially, "we had three roads going into the forest. That, for sure, will be reduced."

Jekyll Island's 1996 master plan for development called for safeguarding the maritime forest, saying "it is critical that the quality of these areas of native flora and wildlife habitat not be further degraded." But it didn't expressly prohibit development.

In its original plan, Linger Longer planned to use 15.4 acres of undeveloped, partly forested land between the convention center and Shell Road.

Greg Krakow, who manages a DNR conservation database, surveyed the forest's plant population last year. He reported that part of the targeted area, a freshwater wetland filled with tall red maples and Virginia chain ferns, "may turn out to be a significant, possibly rare, natural community." Another spot includes many unique hibiscus plants – "a species of conservation concern," he said.

Krakow, a botanist by training, said neither plant community is protected by state or federal regulations.
By law, only 35 percent of the island can be developed; that allotment is almost all in use. The Jekyll Island Authority completed a conservation plan two years ago, but it hasn't been approved by the board. The authority recently hired an environmental consultant to help guide development. Any push into the maritime forest must pass muster with the Georgia DNR and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Eric Garvey, the authority's marketing director.

"Whatever we do needs to be done in an environmentally responsible manner," Garvey said. "Our goal is to be a model for how development takes place on the coast."

.

Jekyll Island nearing development limit, student says
Under state law, only 35 percent of barrier island can be developed

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By STACY SHELTON
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A doctoral candidate’s term paper could turn into a bombshell for development interests on Jekyll Island.

According to the student’s professor at the University of Georgia, the state-owned barrier island is “very, very, very close” to breaching the 35 percent limit on development set under state law. Some of the scenarios show the island already has surpassed the limit.

Developer Linger Longer plans to build two hotels, timeshare cottages and a 30,000-square-foot retail area on Jekyll Island.

Thomas Jordan, associate director of UGA’s Center for Remote Sensing and Mapping Science, called the results preliminary because he has not yet personally verified them.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Jordan also said the accurate answer to how much of the island already has been developed depends on the definition of developed vs. undeveloped.

“Is a golf course that they stopped mowing undeveloped land? Is the grass between the bike path and the road?” Jordan asked. “Even preliminary results point to the fact that these questions need to be answered and that we need to do it properly.”

The state is working off statistics for the 5,700-acre island that showed more than 100 acres still available for development. But Jordan said those numbers are based on old data that predates technological advances in mapping.

Eric Garvey, marketing director for the Jekyll Island Authority, which oversees the barrier island for the state, said in an e-mail that the authority monitors the change in development closely, and frequently updates its information from survey results.

“We are comfortable that we are still well under the threshold,” Garvey said.

On Monday, the authority revised the island’s master plan to allow an additional 1.7 acres of development for road improvements.

State Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) presented UGA’s preliminary findings Tuesday to the legislative oversight committee for Jekyll Island. He asked the Jekyll Island Authority, which oversees the barrier island, to table redevelopment plans until the findings can be thoroughly analyzed.

The authority’s chairman, Robert Krueger of Hawkinsville, said delaying the revitalization of Jekyll Island would be “criminal.”

State Rep. Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons Island), who chaired the legislative oversight committee meeting, said the committee does not have the power to stop or stall development. He said he and the authority would respond to Chapman in writing.

Most of Tuesday’s meeting was spent reviewing a newly signed, 25-year partnership agreement with the developer Linger Longer to build two hotels, timeshare cottages and a 30,000-square-foot retail area with 75 lofts above it. Linger Longer, which developed the upscale Reynolds Plantation at Lake Oconee, is expected to invest more than $120 million in the project.

The state — through the authority — will lease about 18 acres for the properties for 50 years, with possible extensions through 2089.

The authority plans to borrow $25 million to renovate and expand the convention center adjacent to the project, turning it into a 76,000-square-foot meeting space. The authority also will build a 13.8-acre park and boardwalk nearby with restrooms and beach access.

In return, the authority expects to receive about $40 million in rental fees and direct payments from Linger Longer over 25 years. In that time, the state’s repayment on the loan will exceed $50 million.

Krueger said the cumulative 15-year income for the authority will be $799,000 per acre.

“We are realizing market value in the investment at a time when coastal real estate values are in a nosedive,” Krueger said.

Unlike leases the authority signed with homeowners and condominium owners dating back to the 1950s, these lease agreements have escalating fees, Krueger said.



JEKYLL ISLAND DEVELOPMENT:
PRO: Project strikes right balance for all

For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By Joe Wilkinson
Thursday, December 18, 2008

During the gilded age of the late 1880s and until World War II, Jekyll Island was a place where Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Astors, Morgans and Pulitzers would escape the cold New York winters.

More than a century later, however, many of Jekyll Island’s facilities are in disrepair —- so much that even some Boy Scouts trying to earn merit badges don’t find much appeal to this precious coastal asset. Numerous civic and professional groups have scratched Jekyll off their list for annual conventions.

The sad fact is Jekyll has suffered a 23 percent drop in tourism since 1989. It is in desperate need of revitalization, and now is the perfect time to undertake a major redevelopment while protecting the fragile environment as the foremost goal.

Earlier this month, the Jekyll Island Authority finalized a 25-year contract with Linger Longer Communities to revitalize the island. On Monday, the authority made a final amendment to its long-term master plan so redevelopment can proceed in January. For the sake of Jekyll and the people of Georgia, it is time to now move forward and to stop changing the rules and moving the goal line. With this plan for the state to partner with the private sector to carefully redevelop Jekyll, all parties have won.

As someone who has a second home in Glynn County, the future of this island is as important to me as it is to the residents of Jekyll and others who fear the word development. I, too, am an environmentalist. Yet I knew it was important to strike a balance between making Jekyll attractive to the public and not harming the ecosystem including loggerhead turtles and a variety of birds. I believe the state has struck that balance with this developer.

I applaud the Jekyll Island Authority for responding to public concerns and working with the developer to scale back original plans for the 10-mile-long island. It agreed to reduce the size of the 22-acre Beach Village, the largest proposed project.

Concessions include:

> A proposed 141,000-square-foot convention center has been changed to a renovation of the existing convention center at 76,000 square feet.

> A proposal for 725 new hotel rooms has been scaled back to 350 rooms. The original concept was to include three hotels; now there will be two.

> A plan for a 59,000-square-foot retail shopping center has been reduced to 30,000 square feet.

The state will also earn $20 million in the first 15 years of the lease —- money that can be used for beach renourishment or to make repairs to the historic village where the wealthy visitors lodged so long ago.

In today’s economy, Georgia taxpayers are fortunate to find a private partner to operate and build these new facilities at no cost. In addition, a new Jekyll will bring 700 jobs to Glynn County and $94 million in sales tax and $38 million in motel tax revenue to the state and local coffers. That’s not worth another hour of delay because of continued disputes over procedure or the concept of this project.

In 1947, the state bought Jekyll for a bargain, just $600,000. The purpose was to make it a place for all Georgians to revel in a piece of the Golden Isles. As a member of the board of the Jekyll Island Foundation, I believe no one can say they are a true Georgian unless they have experienced the marshes of the island, Jekyll’s dunes or the sea turtles that nest there. Fortunately for all of us, Jekyll will be a much more appealing place thanks to the work those who will give it another Golden Age —- this time, in the 21st century.

Joe Wilkinson, a state representative (R) from Sandy Springs, is a part-time resident of St. Simon’s Island and a member of the board of the Jekyll Island Foundation.



JEKYLL ISLAND DEVELOPMENT:
CON: Lopsided deal unfair to Georgians
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By Jeff Chapman
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Recently, I issued a press release describing the Jekyll Island Authority’s practice of providing millions of dollars of “incentives” for private development on publicly owned oceanfront land within Jekyll Island State Park. I also requested that the Department of Audits examine this practice, with the recommendation to halt further authority contract signings until the investigation is completed.

While a response to my request was pending, the authority announced, on the day after Thanksgiving, an emergency telephone conference meeting for the following Monday morning to approve the long-term contract with its private partner, Linger Longer Communities. The contract, which has a 50-year term, was approved by a 7-1 vote, despite the fact that it is grossly unfair and includes the same inexplicable financial incentives that I have previously questioned.

Originally, the public-private partnership was based on the idea that the authority would contribute either public land or pay for infrastructure costs to facilitate Jekyll’s redevelopment, not both. The partnership agreement recently approved, however, has the authority doing both in the Jekyll town center project. Linger Longer takes ownership of the profitable parts of the project (two hotels and a time-share complex) while the authority assumes $25 million in bond debt to pay for a new convention center and project-related infrastructure needs.

Adding insult to injury, the bond debt will be paid off through revenue generated by Jekyll’s visitors, meaning the public foots the bill for project components that benefit the private partner.

Furthermore, Linger Longer’s time-share complex will displace Jekyll’s most heavily-used beachside parking area, yet the authority has accepted the financial responsibility of rebuilding this facility elsewhere while handing Linger Longer this valuable oceanfront public land free of cost.

The timeshares alone can generate Linger Longer roughly $100 million in net revenue, thanks to the authority’s agreeing to accept a mere 1 percent cut of time-share sales, even though much of the time-shares’ value is based upon their location on prime, state park land. The partnership contract continues to tilt to the advantage of Linger Longer through a 10-year, multi-million dollar rent reduction for the developer’s two hotels, courtesy of an authority that has handed out a massive “start-up incentive” for a private project on beachfront public land.

Of particular interest is the fact that in the contract negotiated in December 2006 for the replacement of the Holiday Inn by the operators of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel annual rent was reduced by a modest 2 percent of gross receipts for only the first three years of the hotel’s operation and set at 4.5 percent thereafter.

That lease was drafted with the intention of establishing a model for future hotel development contracts, according to former authority chair Richard Wood, who helped negotiate the agreement, yet the authority, under new leadership, turned its back on that contract and gave away the farm to Linger Longer.

If Georgians must see prime oceanfront acres of their state park privatized through commercial partnership, they should expect a partnership that is fair for both parties. Fairness, however, is not the word that comes to mind when looking at the partnership contract. Sweetheart deal, giveaway, and corporate welfare are more accurate descriptors, none of which have any place in a true public-private partnership.

Responsibility for this lopsided relationship, and for the authority’s giveaway of millions of dollars of visitor-generated revenue, does not rest with the private partner, who is simply trying to maximize his profits, but rather falls squarely on the shoulders of the authority’s appointees who have failed the people of Georgia.

The Georgia Code states that authority appointees should “never engage in conduct which constitutes a breach of public trust.” By depriving the people’s park of millions of dollars of needed revenue while enriching a private partner, and by jamming through a critically important contract without public review, the authority’s leaders have violated the public’s trust and compromised their standing as park stewards. Jekyll Island State Park and the people of Georgia deserve better.

Jeff Chapman, a state senator (R) from Brunswick, represents District 3 in the Georgia Senate.