Jekyll residents say development mostly good
The Brunswick News
Be Donna Stillinger
November 10, 2014

The impact of increasing development on Jekyll Island has residents and long-time visitors talking.

Tourism is widely perceived as an economic development tool for the Golden Isles, providing factors that may improve the quality of life for residents such as employment and investment opportunities.

But for residents, tourism growth can also lead to negative effects on quality of life such as an increase in traffic, parking problems, crime, cost of living, lifestyle changes and damage to the natural beauty of the islands.

Jekyll Island is currently experiencing a growth in facilities for tourists with several new hotels — a Westin and Holiday Inn — under construction and two more under contract. A new shopping village is also under construction and a new restaurant will soon move in to the old Finn’s location on the beach.

The general feeling from island residents about the development is positive. They understand that tourism pays the bills for the life they lead on the island.

But there are a few folks who simply don’t want any more buildings going up.

“We need the tourists here on Jekyll. Without the tourists, a lot of us would not be able to afford to live here,” said Dan Simpson, a Jekyll visitor and resident for over 25 years. “The local residents cannot foot the bill for the services that we need to enjoy the lifestyle that we have. The amenities that we enjoy would soon disappear.”

Claire Carson Moody agrees.

“For those of us that are not retired and especially those that depend on the tourism industry as our livelihood on the island, the improvements are not only needed but necessary. Jekyll will never be a St. Simons, or a Hilton Head, but we also cannot let it become a ghost town,” she said.

Residents say development needs to be well planned.

“Growth needs to be carefully thought out, targeting the ones that will come to Jekyll with their families and spend money. Excellent restaurants, children activities, clean rooms to stay in, friendly and knowledgeable island workers that will make the visitors to our island feel like they are indeed on vacation, all are needed,” Simpson said.

Some people, including several part-time island residents, feel that too much development will take away from the natural beauty of the island.

“We came to Jekyll because it was one of the last ‘not too spoiled’ barrier islands on the southern Atlantic Coast,” said Laura Smith. “In just four years, we have seen the quest for making it as profitable as possible destroying the Golden Goose that attracts people.

“The people who come to Jekyll aren’t looking for the glitz, glamour, nightlife, shops of other spoiled barrier islands. They come for it’s solitude, it’s connection with nature, it’s lack of the things of civilization. I’m not sure how much longer Jekyll will attract us.”

Julie Hornick said she and husband feel the same way.

“What attracted my husband and me eight years ago was how natural the island was, how unspoiled.,” Hornick said. “We despise the placement of the new convention center and the improvements that have been made in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Progress is not always progress.”

Simpson and other residents came to Jekyll for the quietness and unspoiled beauty, too, but they understand that controlled growth is necessary.

“I understand the appeal and want for a desolate place, but it is a state park, it is a vacation destination. It has been for a very long time. This is not something new,” Simpson said.

He and others believe the natural beauty attracts the visitors but to keep them coming back, there also has to be places to stay, places to eat and places to play.

Ginny Howell, who has lived on Jekyll Island since the ’80s, said the island was in serious need of updating and is now going through a renaissance.

“I experienced the island when there were a tremendous volume of visitors and more recently when the streams of visitors dwindled,” Howell said. “With the new hotels and stores, the visitors are returning.”

It’s a balance, she and others agree.

“We the residents are in charge of keeping the island in pristine condition so people will want to come here,” Howell said. “We are charged with keeping the island beautiful and natural and not letting developers overtake the island. We should be very proud that people want to come here because we have a natural gem.”