Jekyll faces building delays

The Brunswick News

March 22, 2011

Events are already being booked for September 2012 in the new Jekyll Island Convention Center, expected to be completed by mid-2012.

But whether two new hotels, loft condominiums and retail space to be constructed nearby will be ready to be opened at the same time remains to be seen. Developers of the projects have indicated that getting financing for the projects is taking longer than expected, Jekyll Island Authority officials said Monday.

Construction is under way on the state's $50 million investment of the oceanfront convention center.

"We are on schedule to have space available (for construction) in the village at the end of this month, but we are running into some delays there, as far as the partners moving forward with construction," said Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, during an authority committee meeting Monday on Jekyll Island.

In December 2009, Atlanta-based Linger Longer Communities, the firm chosen in 2007 to develop the beach village and hotels, pulled out of the project because of the failing economy. At the time, Linger Longer officials said it would not be able to complete the projects by 2012, citing an anticipated difficulty in obtaining financing.

The projects were split up, and in May 2010, three new developers were announced.

Winding Road Development Co. of Scottsdale, Ariz., was chosen to develop the $24 million beach village, which will include 40,000 square feet of retail space and more than 60 loft units.

Also expected to open in mid-2012 is a full-service oceanfront hotel. Owners of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Landmark Associates, will develop the $34 million building. Phelps Development of Greeley, Colo., will develop the second, limited-service hotel with 140 rooms.

That project is approximately $17 million.

"We're still waiting to hear from each developer as to when they want to begin construction," said Eric Garvey, spokesperson for the state-owned island. "As long as we're under way in the next couple of months .. before June, we're still on schedule."

He said the developers have not been able to secure final financing commitments, mostly because some banks continue to restrict their lending for some types of commercial projects.

Although several smaller-scale projects have been completed - the first phase of Great Dunes Park, a beachfront space with picnic areas and pavilions, the recently opened Flash Foods gas station and Dairy Queen restaurant and the renovated J.P. Morgan Tennis Center - other projects are on the back-burner.

Last month, an official with Trammell Crow, the real estate development and investment firm chosen in 2007 to replace the aging Buccaneer Resort, told the authority that plans to move forward with two hotels and other amenities will not be economically feasible at this time. It did not indicate when it will start.

Another victim of the economy was the Jekyll Oceanfront Clarion Resort, which closed its doors at the end of January.

Although the property was offered for sale in an online auction nearly two weeks ago, Jekyll Island officials said the bid of $4.7 million was not accepted by the owner and that negotiations are ongoing.

Despite the snags, Garvey and others remain cautiously optimistic.

"At this point, I guess until we open (the beach village and two new hotels) there will be a concern," he said about meeting the timetable.

Even so, "We're still progressing and are still on the same schedule to be complete by mid-point 2012," he said.