Study: Jekyll impact minimal
Consultant says renewal won’t change character

The Brunswick News

February 10, 2008

Revitalization of Jekyll Island will have little impact on the overall character of the state-owned island, an adviser hired by the Jekyll Island Authority says.

Jekyll Island will remain serene, even 25 years down the road, according to a study the Bleakly Advisory Group released Monday.

During the monthly board meeting of the Jekyll Island Authority, Gary Mongeon, vice president of the Atlanta-based group, released findings of a months-long study that sought to predict how the island would look years down the road after the planned revitalization.

In the study, the group examined the state park alongside comparable islands in the Southeast.
All told, Mongeon and his team found that not much will change, except for higher tourism rates and the addition of more overnight visitors.

The study looked at the island in terms of the 2.65 million projected visitors who are predicted to come to the island following the planned revitalization, both with private developer Linger Longer Communities and the other projects slated for the island.

If the island reaches its goal of two million-plus visitors a year, which would be similar to the peak visitation counted in the late 1980s, the island will need 4,100 hotels rooms and 112,00 square feet of commercial and retail space by 2023.

If that happens, Mongeon found that the island will not look too different than it does today in terms of traffic flow, housing units and lodging, as well as impacts to population density, seasonally and year-round.

As it now stands, Jekyll Island has the lowest number of housing units, housing density and lodging compared to other islands. That trend would increase slightly by 2023, placing Jekyll in the middle of the nine other islands with the fourth lowest rate of housing and lodging density with 4,100 total units, he said.

The island and causeway connecting it to the mainland can sustain that increase in traffic flow that are expected to be sparked by revitalization, said Mongeon and Bob Krueger, chairman of the board of the Jekyll Island Authority.

Currently, the causeway and the island as a whole see less traffic than any of the nine of islands.
The Georgia Department of Resources has previously stated that the Downing Musgrove Causeway, which links the state park to the mainland, can sustain up to 21,000 cars a day. That is far higher than the total number of vehicles traveling the causeway today, Krueger said.

After revitalization, Mongeon estimated that less than 9,000 vehicles will travel daily to the causeway and to the island.

As far as seasonal visitation, the island now holds the second lowest number of peak seasonal population per square mile. In 2023, the island will increase to the mid-range, seeing less than 8,000 visitors a night, Mongeon predicts.

"This study was meant to provide a snapshot in time for what the island might look like in 25 years in comparison with similar islands in the Southeast," Mongeon said. "This is meant to be very subjective, and to let you decide for yourself what is good or bad for the island. These are just the facts."

Some residents at the meeting felt that the study did not answer their questions regarding change to the island decades from now and was, in fact, not an accurate comparison.

Island resident Norman Haft said the study was "a complete waste of time," noting that the islands used to compare to Jekyll Island are not at all similar.
"These islands are nothing like Jekyll," Haft said.

Mindy Egan, an island resident and co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, voiced concern that no credence was given to the environmental impacts to the ecosystem of the island following the planned growth.

Krueger said the data presented in the study was merely a statistical look at possible scenarios for the island's morphing, and was not to be taken as the sole guiding principal set in stone for the island's revamping.

"At this point, we really don't know what all this means. The study is an overall statement," Krueger said.

"The key is that we bring people and revitalization to the island. We know we are not a Hilton Head or a Myrtle Beach, and will certainly be mindful of what it is that has brought people here already and what will continue to do so. These are statistics to be taken at face value. It's part of the process, not a set driving point."

Comparing islands:
Bleakly Advisory Group came to its conclusion about growth and needs after comparing Jekyll Island to nine other islands.
* Tybee Island
* St. Simons Island
* St. George Island, Fla.
* Santa Rosa/ Pensacola Beach, Fla.
* Captiva/Sanibel Island, Fla
* Fripp Island, S.C.
* Kiawah Island, SC
* Pawley's Island, SC
* Ocean Isles Beach, NC