Jekyll residents want more open space
The Brunswick News
By Donna Stillinger
October 26, 2015

More parking and green space but no hotel is the consensus so far of Jekyll Island stakeholders on what should happen with vacant property in front of the Westin Hotel in the Beach Village.

But hoteliers disagree. More lodging is needed to accommodate convention center groups, they contend.
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The authority, using two consulting companies – BAE Economics and PKF Hospitality – looked at historical islandwide hotel performance results and evaluated the existing and potential future mix of lodging alternatives available on the island.

In July, it decided to step back and not allow a proposal to go any further for the parcel based on information gained in the studies and the recommendations made by the two companies.

JIA Executive Director Jones Hooks is now asking stakeholders what they would like to see.

The first public input session was Tuesday and drew about 50 residents and business owners to the Jekyll Island Museum. Another meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Jekyll Island Museum auditorium.

“The intention of this area was and is for it to be the urban core of the island,” Hooks said. “A hotel has been planned for this site and we need more rooms, but we wanted to step back and reassess what needs to go in that space and how it best fits with what Jekyll Island needs as a whole.

There is no plan as of now for the space. We are continuing to collect information.

“The village is just about complete, and we have two other hotels planned for the island. We want to take advantage of this delay to look at the village site plan again to assure proper and best spacial utilization for future lodging needs, but also for possible green space and parking needs.”

Part of a reevaluation process is to talk with stakeholders on the island. Hooks and other officials have met with hotel owners and managers, business owners and residents, gathering input from all groups.

The one predominate theme from the first input session was that more parking is needed.

Without giving a definite number of parking spaces on the island, Hooks said studies indicate there are plenty.

Maybe so, but not in the island’s main commercial district, the Beach Village, stakeholders said. Residents and businesses complained there are never enough spaces available in the village, especially when the convention center hosts large groups.

More handicapped spaces close to the shops also would help, as well as parking for motor coaches, stakeholders said.

Hotel owners attending the first meeting recommended another idea, reiterating that more rooms are needed on the island to support the convention center. A hotel in the village would help, they said.

“Convention attendees and planners want to stay close to the center where meetings will be held,” said Jason Smith, general manager of the Holiday Inn Resort Jekyll Island. “It is very important that we have more rooms as close to the convention center as possible. Having a hotel on that parcel can only help book more conventions in the center and will benefit all of us.”

At its peak, Jekyll Island featured just over 1,500 hotel rooms.

“Currently there are 1,062 hotel rooms and we are planning to eventually have about 1,700 to 1,800,” Hooks said.

Two other hotels are planned for the south end of the island, along with a cottage development.

Hooks said he could not respond to the status of the two proposed hotels, which will be south of the Days Inn, saying when they would be built and how many rooms they would offer is up to the developers.

If a hotel must go in front of the Westin, it should be one or two stories high only and be sized to allow for more parking and some sort of green space or small park area similar to the Beach Village lawn, stakeholders said.

Several at the first meeting suggested the space be used for green space, parking and an arcade or area where young people living and visiting on the island could gather and enjoy activities. One person even suggested a skateboard park.

JIA officials said there are plenty of activities on the island for young people who are visiting, from bocce ball and volleyball at the Great Dunes Park to miniature golf.

And there’s always beach time, they added.

Following the next public input session, the JIA will conduct a refinement session with an internal working group, followed by the preparation and presentation of the final draft of the site plan.

That plan is expected to be presented to the board of the JIA at its Jan. 19, 2016 meeting.

If approved by the board, the request for proposals will be sent out Feb. 1.

“Pending all of the factors, we expect to issue a new RFP for a limited service hotel in 2016,” Hooks said.

Those unable to attend the public meetings can provide input by emailing Linda deMedicis at ldemedicis@jekyllisland.com.

Reporter Donna Stillinger writes about Jekyll Island, lifestyles and other local topics. Contact her at dstillinger@thebrunswicknews.com or at 265-8320, ext. 321.

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