Jekyll projects pushing ahead

The Brunswick News

By ANNA FERGUSON HALL
12/5/2011


With only four weeks remaining in 2011, deadlines throughout 2012 for opening new facilities on Jekyll Island are quickly approaching.

When plans for the new convention center, two nearby hotels and an adjacent retail village were announced in 2008, the Jekyll Island Authority said it was aiming to have all three complete by the end of 2012. A weak economy and struggling construction industry, though, put a slight damper on some - but not all - of those aspirations.

A large chunk of the overall island renovation efforts actually will be completed ahead of schedule, said Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority.

The meat of the renovations effort, the new convention center, is more than 75 percent complete and is ahead of an original schedule. It is expected to be completed by May.

All infrastructure elements of the revitalization plan - roads, roundabouts and gate house for collecting parking fees - will be ready when the ribbon is cut on the convention center, Garvey said.

Even though improvements to the southern portion of Great Dunes Park had not been anticipated, they will be complete when the center opens, if not sooner, Garvey said. The area of the park was originally marked for a third hotel, but that idea was abandoned. Instead of a hotel, the park area will remain a park, acting as a beach access and southern entrance to the village area.

"Even with the addition of the new park project, we will finish these key three elements ahead of schedule," Garvey said.

Neighboring projects are also in the works, but dates for beginning construction and opening doors have been pushed back several months, into 2013.

This summer, Phelps Construction, the group building the limited-service hotel, said it would open the Hyatt Place hotel by the end of 2012, if plans stay on track. Construction on the 135-room hotel is slated to begin in January and the goal for opening can be extended to the start of 2013, if needed, Garvey said.

The second planned hotel, a full-service, 200-room operation to be built by Jekyll Landmark Associates, has only just acquired an operator. Landmark Associates had previously narrowed its choices to three: Hilton, Westin and Marriott.

The group has announced it is going with Hilton and should have initial designs to meet a Dec. 31 deadline.

Ground breaking for that project is likely to be in spring, Garvey said, and should take a year to finish.

The village retail area has been one of the hardest projects to tackle. Attracting businesses in the current economic down shift has been slow, he said.

Originally, the authority had planned to have the two hotels, convention center and village open in September 2012.

"We realized about six months in that what we planned was not possible," Garvey said. "So we separated the work into two tracts."

Under the new plan, the convention center, park and infrastructure elements will open in May, with the limited-service hotel coming on board shortly after that. The full-service hotel and retail area should be operating within a year after that, Garvey said.

The authority so far has booked 51 conventions for 2012, nearing the annual goal of 75. That's a significant spike from the 20 conventions booked at the Morgan Center interim convention campus this year, but one Garvey feels can be reached once construction of the limited-service hotel begins.

"Some conventions want those two hotels before they sign a contract, but some are fine with one," Garvey said. "We've had success partnering with other hotels on St. Simons and in Brunswick, and we have incentives that are attracting conventions."

Overall, Garvey said the authority is pleased with the work that has been done, though it knows there may still be a few curves in the road.

"We're doing better than holding our own," he said. "We're meeting with planners regularly and they are very receptive to the things we have to show them. When the convention center is up and running, it will be the catalyst for even more business and faster results."