Jekyll hotel plan stalls
The Brunswick News
By Nikki Wiley
September 25, 2012

Jekyll Island Authority officials say little progress has been made in securing funding for a Westin hotel planned at the state park.

Construction of the $41 million Westin hotel was expected to begin this month but hit a roadblock in August. Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, said then that a tax incentive program the hotel's funding was dependent upon would not be implemented by the
state.

The problem was not the fault of the developer but had to do with unclear guidelines for the tax incentive program.

That leaves the authority, which operates the state park, and the hotel's developer, the Landmark Group, looking for other ways to obtain $25 million in funding.

Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority, said Monday the authority is pursuing alternative funding from both the public and private sectors.

"We were hopeful things would be resolved by (this month), but it just didn't work out," Garvey said.

The development by the authority of the planned Beach Village retail center is contingent upon the Westin securing its funding. That leaves both projects at a temporary standstill. "The Westin hotel has become the key project in developing that whole Beach Village," Garvey said.

Other revitalization projects are moving forward.

The new Jekyll Island Convention Center opened in May, and the island unveiled its new information center and plaza that includes a new toll booth and updated welcome center at a ribbon cutting Monday.

Updated drawings for the Beach Village are expected next month, and the developers of the Hyatt Place hotel are up to date on their payments to the authority.

A source of funding in the future was created by the board of the state authority Monday, when it voted at its regular monthly meeting to approve the establishment of the Jekyll Island Tourism Development Fund.

A portion of the room tax will be channeled to the fund, which will be used to promote tourism projects on the island.

No specific projects have been slated for the fund, but Hooks told the board that it could be used for projects like the Westin hotel in the future. Jekyll Island receives all of the funds from the 5 percent room tax generated on the island. Under the state law that provides for the tax, 2 percent must be used to promote tourism, conventions and trade shows supporting a state facility. 

Beginning in fiscal 2014, which will begin July 1, 30 percent of the island's room tax receipts will be set aside for the development fund. The money will be disbursed beginning in 2015.