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.
> 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.