OPINION
Golden Isles turning it around
The Brunswick News
October 09, 2010
By REG MURPHY

Fear and uncertainty are not identical twins but they certainly are blood brothers, as we have seen lately.
The brothers are taking a beating around here and that is certainly good news for Southeast Georgia.

First there was fear and uncertainty about the fate of Jekyll Island. It was spiraling downward and many believed that direction would continue because of some misguided politicians (and woefully irresponsible reporting in a certain Atlanta newspaper with which I am familiar).

Just when it looked worst, though, the Georgia Legislature got enough courage to pass a $50 million bond issue for the rescue of the state's treasured resort.

How different things are now. Construction of affordable motel rooms and a special beachside playground already are pumping new enthusiasm into the island.

Especially heartening this week were these words from House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge during a visit: "Jekyll has such a bright future."

Improvements on the island "are going to be so significant and so great for the future of this area," he added.

Following the time of fear at Jekyll came the twin disappointments at the Sea Island Co. and the Frederica, on the north end of St. Simons Island.

Wells Fargo Bank took back the Frederica development and Cannon's Point after the company couldn't pay off a $140 million loan. Residents in particular and members who don't live there shared the fear that the Frederica Club would turn into a weed farm.

Along comes Wayne Huizenga, a man who has a wealth of experience in building businesses like Waste Management and Blockbuster. He bids successfully for the Frederica community and this week took control.

Huizenga immediately sat down with club staff and members to outline plans for the future that contemplate adding staff, recruiting new members from all over the nation and building on what already is a beautiful facility.

Visit his Diamond Creek Golf Club near Banner Elk, N.C., as I did a couple of weeks ago, and you see a pleasant club in a glorious mountain setting. Listen to his company staff and they paint a picture of a man determined to create happy surroundings.

Emphasizing his own enthusiasm for St. Simons Island, he already has bought and is furnishing a home in the Frederica community.

There is, of course, one piece of unfinished business in this general changeover of the area.

The venerable Sea Island Co. had the double whammy of some business mistakes (for which Bill Jones III has manfully taken blame) and an economy which went sour at precisely the wrong time.

Sometime Monday, at the King & Spalding law offices in Atlanta, final bids for the Sea Island Co. will be delivered and the long road back from bankruptcy will begin.

Even there, there is reason for optimism. The original high bidders, Oaktree and Avenue Capital, thought enough of the property to offer $197 million.

Along this week came Starwood Group to top that offer at $205 million. Starwood is not in the hotel business now, but the principal in that group, Barry Sternlicht, founded a group of trophy hotels under the Starwood banner.

So those of us who don't really know what either group would do have to believe they are not offering big bucks to run a shoddy resort. By Monday afternoon, that picture will begin to come into focus.

The other shoe still to drop is what will happen to the Cannon's Point property, across the road from Frederica. Wells Fargo Bank is taking new bids on the oak-beautified, 600-acre property with deep water access.

The bank says it is "a matter of weeks or months but not years" before the destination of Cannon's Point will be known.

All that is a very long way from where the situation was just a few months ago. And it illustrates what we all know from our own lives. Sometimes it takes a hard fall to make you appreciate how good the next phase can be.

To borrow an old refrain from a political theme song, happy days are here again.

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





Letter to the Editor by David Egan in Response to “Golden Isles turning it around”
The Brunswick News

October 13, 2010

Jekyll looking up despite past

Reg Murphy got it right in his Brunswick News column, "Golden Isles turning it around" in stating that "there was fear and uncertainty about the fate of Jekyll Island. It (Jekyll Island) was spiraling downward and many believed that direction would continue because of some misguided politicians."

The "fear" Murphy refers to stemmed from concern over the Jekyll Island Authority's attempt to sell the misguided notion that a grand beachfront town center, replete with some 500 condos and timeshares, was what Georgians wanted for their barrier island state park. The "uncertainty" came from public bewilderment over whether the JIA board would come to its senses and back away from a town center plan that was so wrong in so many ways.

And, Murphy's "misguided politicians" are the members of the Jekyll Island Legislative Oversight Committee who were willing to rubber stamp a JIA-Linger Longer deal that would have put Jekyll Island State Park in a financial death spiral.

Thanks to statewide public protest, the efforts of State Senator Jeff Chapman, and complications arising from the mega-town center project's collision with Georgia's Shore Protection Act, the JIA eventually scaled back the town center project to a level consistent with Jekyll's purpose and character as a state park.

Born from that decision was the recently opened Great Dunes Park, a fine addition to Jekyll's public amenities and monument to the power of civic action harnessed to a just cause. Yes, Mr. Murphy, things are finally looking better for Jekyll Island State Park.

David Egan
Jekyll Island