Planning for Jekyll’s Future
At its September 15, 2008 board meeting, the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) revealed its preliminary “Analysis of Long-Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island,” a study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG). BAG’s report, which will include other components at a later date, marks a milestone in the history of the Jekyll development issue, as it offers a forecast of where BAG believes the Authority must head if it is to acquire the financial resources to maintain, operate and further develop Jekyll Island State Park and to boost visitation to desired levels.
Before looking at the details of the BAG report, some brief background is needed.
When the JIA’s board of directors first announced its intent to undertake a comprehensive redevelopment of Jekyll Island State Park, a number of organizations, including the IPJI, urged the board to do the following before taking any steps toward Jekyll’s revitalization:
•Adopt a comprehensive Conservation Plan that would identify the environmentally-sensitive areas of the island and provide for their protection from the effects of development. •Conduct environmental impact studies and determine if the areas under consideration for development would fall within the jurisdiction of state or federal protective laws. •Employ professionals in public land planning in order to identify the best path to follow in revitalizing Jekyll and to determine extent to which Jekyll can handle more development without negatively affecting the quality of the experience enjoyed by Jekyll’s visitors and without compromising the island’s environment or wildlife habitats.
While the Conservation Plan has not been adopted, and the JIA’s attorney has ruled that the Authority is not required to conduct environmental effects studies for the development sites under consideration, the Authority, as mentioned above, has managed to complete a planning study called an “Analysis of Long-Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island.” In the words of the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG)—the company hired to conduct the development study—the main purpose of the analysis is to estimate “the level of future visitation and related development necessary to both maintain the Authority’s financial viability and finance investments in visitor amenities and public assets to secure the island’s future as Georgia’s Jewel.”
Designed to provide an analytical framework for considering the appropriate level of future development on Jekyll Island, BAG’s study may prove to be one of the most important and influential documents in the history of Jekyll Island State Park. Unfortunately, members of the public were not given an opportunity to raise questions about the BAG report when it was presented at the JIA board meeting on September 15th. However, BAG will be holding a meeting at 2:00 on September 29th at Jekyll’s Convention Center to summarize the report and take questions from the public. The location and time of the meeting will make it difficult for off-islanders to attend, but, given the importance of the BAG study, we are urging Jekyll’s friends to come to the session if at all possible.
Since the vast majority of Jekyll’s visitors will not be able to attend the meeting, and since we would like to give all interested parties a chance to raise questions about BAG’s report, we are asking folks to email any comments they might have to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will then use the input we receive to work up a series of questions to raise at the meeting, allowing you—Jekyll’s most ardent advocates—to have a voice at the meeting, and allowing us—the folks at ground zero—to speak on your behalf.
The three key documents that make clear what the BAG report is all about can be found below. If you email questions or comments to us dealing with a specific statement in BAG’s report, please refer to a page number from the report so we can place your questions/comments in the proper context. Also, please provide us with your name and home town so we can document the sources of the input we receive.
The following rough summary of BAG’s findings is provided for those of you who do not have the time or patience to wade through the pages of charts and graphs found in the report.
Summary of the Bleakly Advisory Group’s Findings
Visitation to Jekyll Island and utilization of the park’s amenities has declined by 15 to 25 percent over the past 20 years.
JIA revenues have managed to exceed operating expenses but not to the extent to allow the Authority to fund all of its infrastructure needs and capital improvement projects, which, according to the JIA, now total $99 million.
Among the big ticket items on the expense list are: $30 million for historic district maintenance and improvements; $15 million for convention center redevelopment; $13 million for beach renourishment, $10 million for golf course renovations, and $7 million for water park development.
Jekyll Island will need to attract an additional 1.2 million visitors per year to raise sufficient income to fund operations and capital improvement projects.
To support visitation and income projects, the JIA needs to increase its accommodations from the current 823 units/rooms to 2,500, and increase residential cottages, duplexes and condos from the current 801 units to 1,200, all of which would be located within the 35% of the island that is developable according to Georgia law.
Jekyll’s projected “build out” and the consequent increase in population fall below the so-called “low density scenario” according to the research done by the Cooper Carry company as part of its work with BAG.
The increase in accommodations cited above is expected to boost the island’s peak season population from the current figure of 7,800 to 15,000, and increase the JIA’s annual operating revenues from its current level of $18.3 million to $48.4 million by the year 2023, allowing the Authority to support operating and maintenance costs and pay for capital improvement projects and the enhancement of visitor amenities.
The BAG Documents:
1. Proposal and Methodology Submitted by BAG
2. “Analysis of Long-Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island”
3. Technical Appendix: Detailed Forecast Tables