Jekyll turns to plan for guidance
The Brunswick News
May 28, 2012

Jekyll Island officials are turning away from a 2009 island capacity study that focused on larger development efforts and are now looking to an ongoing master plan update to guide the island's operations.

The Bleakley Advisory Group capacity study estimated the state park will need to incorporate 4,100 hotel rooms and 111,200 square feet of commercial and retail space by 2023 to attract annual visitation of 2.65 million, similar to the number of visitors the island received during its peak time in the late 1980s. The study said the new developments will not cause the island to look much different than it does now, and compared the result on St. Simons and Tybee islands.

The study focused on a Linger Longer Communities proposal intended to revitalize the island with a $342 million plan surrounding a town center containing three new hotels, condominiums, retail center, convention center and beach front park.

Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the Jekyll Island Authority, said the study looked at how the Linger Longer proposal would impact the island in terms of what it could support.

Citing economic difficulties, Linger Longer was not able to complete its projects in the time the Jekyll Island Authority, which operates the island, preferred and pulled out of the development. The projects were then split between different developers and scaled down, Garvey said.

Great Dunes Park and a new convention center are now open and the condominiums have been removed from the project.

Because the original capacity study was completed using information from the Linger Longer plan that is no longer being pursued in its original form, the study is not relevant and is no longer a guide for the island.

"A lot of the projections they used just aren't relevant anymore," Garvey said. "For the most part, it's not a guiding document for us at this point."

David Egan, Jekyll Island resident and co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, expressed concern when the island capacity study was completed. The study used U.S. Census Bureau data that stated the island is made up of 9,232 acres that includes the Downing Musgrove Causeway and surrounding marshlands, which are not suitable for development.

Egan and others were concerned what the census data could do to the island, which is required by state law to limit development to 35 percent of the land. The census indicated the island was larger, though much of the acreage could not actually be developed.

Egan said the study also failed to take environmental aspects into consideration.

"It seems to me when you're doing a capacity study you're not just trying to figure out how many people and lodging units you can fit in a space," Egan said. "You're trying to figure out what is the optimal number you can fit in a space with its character."

JIA officials are now turning to the park's updated master plan as a guiding document for the future.

The master plan, which guides the operation of the state park, was created in 1996 and last updated in 2006.

The new update is ongoing. Six task forces are gathering suggestions for how the island should be operated and considerations that should be taken for Jekyll's future.

Egan says he is happy to see the authority moving away from the study and looking toward the island's future.

A member of the 65/35 and Sustainability Task Forces for the master plan update, Egan said he hopes another island capacity study will be completed during the document's update that will take environmental concerns and the area's character into consideration.

It's on the Sustainability Task Force's agenda, he says.

"I'm happy that the Jekyll Island Authority decided to include the capacity study as the Sustainability Task Force work," Egan said. "I think it shows that they're sincerely interested in getting it right this time around."

Master plan task forces will meet for the second time at the end of June.