In a July 10, 2010 essay published in the Brunswick News, columnist Reg Murphy presented as fact a mythical history of the JIA’s effort to renovate Jekyll Island. Entitled, “An island filled with optimism,”  Murphy’s essay appears below along with an IPJI commentary which debunks the myths peddled by Murphy.

Our commentary should not be construed as opposition to Jekyll improvements or to all efforts in this regard currently being made by the JIA.  IPJI has always supported responsible redevelopment of Jekyll Island State Park and will continue to do so.

Time to set the record straight

Myth: Only “the residents and a few politicians” objected to some of the JIA’s development plans.
Reality: Thousands of Georgians and out-of-state visitors have questioned a number of the JIA’s revitalization plans and concepts, including such ideas as replacing Jekyll’s soccer fields and 4-H Center with commercial and residential properties; constructing a town center on Jekyll’s main public beach replete with over 1,100 condos, timeshares and hotel rooms; and handing high-end developer Linger Longer Communities a deal so sweet that it bordered on a gratuity, according to records obtained from the Attorney General’s office.

Myth: The JIA’s town center plan has been on target all along. 
Reality: The redevelopment effort currently underway bears little resemblance to the mega-plan that the JIA initially tried to sell as exactly what Jekyll needed and Georgians wanted. That plan was abandoned under both intense public pressure and the threat of legal action for violation of Georgia’s Shore Protection Act. 

Myth: Jeff Chapman “fought every plan that came forward” in an effort to block Jekyll’s renovation.
Reality: Senator Chapman has consistently supported hotel redevelopment and amenity upgrades for Jekyll Island. He has been mislabeled as an “obstructionist”  by some, including Murphy, because he opposed commercializing Jekyll’s south end; building a mega town center along Jekyll’s main beach; and doling out a lush, 25-year monopoly on Jekyll’s redevelopment to Linger Longer Communities. The town center plan that is now moving forward validates Jeff Chapman’s position, although Reg Murphy gives the JIA credit for what Chapman and others have long urged the Authority to do.

Myth: When the JIA’s redevelopment plan is complete, “some 200 less [rooms] will be available for overnight guests" compared to the all time high number of hotel rooms on the island.
Reality: The JIA’s officially announced Business Plan (February, 2009) calls for 2,500 lodging units/rooms—which represents a 65 percent increase in the number that Jekyll had at in its heyday, not 200 fewer, as Murphy claims.

Myth: “New motels are welcoming guests.”
Reality: Unfortunately, only one new hotel has been built on the island in the past 30 years. Two have been demolished but not yet rebuilt, and two others are supposed to be replaced in the near future.

Myth: Murphy says—repeating a comment he made 5 years ago—that “Jekyll’s hotels were (then) a  disgrace.”
Reality: Jekyll’s hotels were not “a disgrace” five years ago and are not today either. Some may be in need of modernization, but the rooms are clean, the staff accommodating, and the rates affordable. 

Myth: “It is difficult to find a good place to eat” on Jekyll Island. “Food at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel is the exception.”
Reality: Besides the Club Hotel’s dining room, Jekyll has a number of good restaurants on both the oceanfront and the west side of the island. They may not be as posh as what Sea Island resident Murphy is accustomed to, but the food is great and so is the service.

In sum, Murphy—while painting a rosy picture of Jekyll’s near-term future— reveals an astounding ignorance of how the current revitalization plan evolved, who played what role in bringing it about, and what the current conditions are like on Jekyll Island.

An island filled with optimism

The Brunswick News

June 10, 2010

Looking for something hopeful and optimistic in this sweltering summer of our national discouragement?

Look no further than a beautiful place of which you are a part owner: Jekyll Island.

Five years ago, I kicked the hornet's nest by reporting that Jekyll was declining at a rapid pace, that its motels were a disgrace and that the homeowners had a pretty good deal with their land leases.

Hell hath no fury like an island scorned, and the residents and some politicians made it clear that the scoundrel who wrote those nasty things should be - well, not welcomed back.

Fast forward to this summer. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the island was crowded.

New motels were welcoming guests. A park along the splendid beach was under construction.

Couples on bicycles traversed the trails through the woods. Roads contained more golf carts and rubber-tired trains hauled full loads. The golf courses weren't full, but there was a lot of play.

Behind all this new optimism is a two-story yellow frame building in a stand of live oaks housing the re-energized Jekyll Island Authority.

Its offices are crammed with maps and blueprints and studies that deal with the future of the island which the state bought in 1947.

That is not to say that everything now is perfect on the island.

For example, once there were 1,500 hotel, motel and guest rooms dotted along the beaches. Even when the new rooms are brought on board, some 200 less will be available for overnight guests.

Restaurants figure heavily in the plans for the future, but it is difficult to find a good place to eat now. Tip: Food at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel is the exception; it is really good.

Sometime in the next few weeks, the Authority will be awarding contracts to nationally known hospitality companies for the construction of the new motels.

At the same time, it will contract with a national company to build two retail buildings (an oddity itself, when not many places are building centers instead of closing them).

All should open at about the same time in the summer of 2012.

Then Georgians who have been reluctant to stay at their own beachfront park should have a much more optimistic feeling about the place.

Most important, a new convention center will come along at the same time, replacing the dilapidated center that no longer serves as a place where conventions like to go.

Behind all this change is a combination of new and experienced Authority figures.

Jones Hooks came about two years ago to head the Authority, and he joined Jim Broadwell, who worked at the Sea Island Company for 25 years before moving across the river.

With their leadership, the Authority weathered a bewildering series of obstacles.

Sen. Jeff Chapman fought every plan that came forward. Chapman also got the state legislature to create an "oversight committee" to ride herd on the park.

Probably to his amazement, the committee has been supportive at every step of the new planning and execution.

Linger Longer, the company that initially contracted to build a new-look center, and the Authority allowed that contract to fizzle out last December. That freed the Authority to begin its own negotiations with nationally recognized firms, which has proceeded steadily.

Plans for the College of Coastal Georgia to play some of its future soccer games on the spacious fields on the island are taking shape.

Someday the college might even consider oceanographic studies along its shores.

With 63 golf holes meandering through the pines, the high school tournaments now held there could be augmented by others in cooperation with the Georgia State Golf Association. (Broadwell is no stranger to the GSGA, once having served as its president.)

Dreamers can imagine a modest health clinic in some of the commercial space, conventions coming back from Asheville or Charleston, a fishing tournament or even a sailing regatta just off the coast.

Jekyll is nowhere near that yet, but it is an island of optimism when we all could use an outlook that looks to the future instead of the past.

- Reg Murphy, a Golden Isles resident, has been editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, publisher of The (Baltimore) Sun and editor and publisher of the San Francisco Examiner.

Click here for reader responses to Reg Murphy's Opinion piece.