Preliminary Design of the Jekyll Town Center

In October of 2008, after a year of efforts by IPJI and complaints by thousands of Jekyll’s visitors, the proposal put forward by Linger Longer Communities for a densely developed Jekyll town center was reduced in size by two-thirds, sparing the beachfront between Jekyll’s convention center and Blackbeard’s restaurant from commercial development. Left unanswered at that time was the question of what the revised Jekyll town center would actually look like.

On July 14, 2009, that question was answered, in part, at a presentation by Helman, Hurley, Charvat & Peacock Architects (HHCP), the consultants to the JIA charged with determining the exact location of the town center’s various pieces and with designing its public components. The design of the center’s commercial structures—time-shares, condos, 2 hotels, and retail shops—is not HHCP’s responsibility but rather will be handled by private developer Linger Longer Communities in conjunction with the JIA board of directors.

The presentation covered a long list of topics, including the redesigned entry road; the site location of the town center’s retail stores, hotels, time-shares, condominiums, convention center and beachside park; landscaping and dune renourishment; convention center layout and design; the conceptualization of the retail area; the features of the new beach park; the cost of the project; and the construction schedule. 

The basics are that Jekyll will have a relocated fee both, new entry road that will funnell into 2 roundabouts ending with a third overlooking village green and a pedestrian shopping area with an open view of the beach. To the north of that area will be a new, enlarged convention center and a beach park that will include changing stations, rest rooms, picnic facilities, a beachfront promenade, and dune crossovers. To the south will be two hotels and a 160-unit time-share complex. Seventy-five condos are in the plan as loft units above the retail shops. Construction is scheduled to begin by the end of this year and to be completed in 2012.

The two spokesmen for HHCP emphasized that their design intends to capitalize on Jekyll’s traditional character and natural appeal and to make the town center's private components - hotels and timeshares – less intrusive by shifting them to the southern part of the development site, where they will still have beach access but will not be at the center of public view.

For illustrations from the slide show presentation by HHCP, click here.

Following the presentation, the HHCP representatives fielded questions from the audience for over an hour.  Below are HHCP’s responses to some of the more fundamental inquiries. 

When asked about the height of the town center’s buildings, HHCP said that the publicly-owned convention center will be a relatively low-rise structure, roughly 3 stories high. The heights of the commercial structures, however, will be determined by private developer Linger Longer Communities. Currently, the JIA’s design guidelines allow for 70% of a building to be up to 54 feet high, 30% can be up to 64 feet high, and non-functional, decorative features can be up to 74 feet in height. Whether Linger Longer will, in fact, design commercial buildings of a height that could dominate the town center’s landscape and detract from the aesthetic effect HHCP is trying to achieve remains unknown at this point in time. 

Responding to concerns over the apparent lack of oceanfront public parking due to the merging of the convention center parking lot with the lot for the new beach park, HHCP said that since many conventioneers will be staying at the two new hotels adjacent to the convention center and walking from there to convention sessions, the lot should have ample parking for beach vacationers. HHCP also said that its design plan includes an overflow parking area along the north central side of the island’s entry parkway, roughly 300 yards from the beach.

A concern was expressed that the planned roundabout would create St. Simons-like traffic snarls and be dangerous as well. HHCP responded by saying that single-lane roundabouts, such as the one planned for Jekyll, are far less dangerous than the multiple lane variety seen on St. Simons, and that while traffic might move slowly through the roundabout, it should not produce as much of a slowdown as would a “T” junction, such as Forsten Parkway now has at its junction with Beachview Drive.

A complaint that the 160-unit time-share complex does not belong in the town center and is inconsistent with the design concepts favored by HHCP was applauded by members of the audience but essentially went unanswered by the HHCP spokesmen, who made it clear that decisions on what should and should not be included in the town center were not part of their contractual responsibilities.

At the end of the session, the HHCP spokesmen received a well-deserved round of applause for their detailed presentation and attentiveness to the concerns of those in the audience. 

While the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island (IPJI) will continue to follow with interest the unfolding of the town center project, IPJI’s focus is now turning to the JIA’s intentions for phases II and III of Jekyll’s redevelopment and further development. For example, does the JIA actually intend to boost the number of Jekyll’s lodgings/residences to 4,100 units and peak season daily population to 15,000, as called for in the Authority’s February 2009 “Business Plan and Visitation Analysis?” If so, how would Jekyll’s character and the quality of the visitor experience be affected by this 150 percent increase on Jekyll’s current number of lodging units/residences and by a doubling of its peak season population?

Does the JIA intend to give Linger Longer operational control and bottom line financial responsibility for Jekyll’s key amenities, including the golf course complex, as stipulated in the 25-year JIA-Linger Longer Revitalization Partnering Agreement? If so, what would become of Jekyll’s affordability mandate and state park character in the hands of a high-end developer such as Linger Longer?

Are villas and condos going to be built within Jekyll’s golf course complex, as discussed at the JIA board’s recent two-day retreat in Smarr, Georgia. If so, what would be the rationale for diminishing a state park recreational facility for the sake of private development?

Does the JIA intend to adopt a comprehensive Jekyll Island Conservation Plan—a draft of which has been tabled for the past 18 months—before moving any further with the island’s redevelopment? If not, what assurance is there that the Authority’s revitalization efforts will not interfere with or damage the island’s environmentally sensitive areas and natural systems?

In coming months, IPJI will gather input from Jekyll’s visitors and share it with the JIA board so that the board can have the option of incorporating public preferences into the planning process for Jekyll’s improvement. It is our hope that JIA board members will not repeat the mistakes of the past by attempting to misrepresent and dismiss the public input IPJI provides, particularly with respect to development plans that might be out of step with Jekyll’s character and unpopular with most of the island’s visitors, as was the case with Linger Longer’s original, mega-town center proposal.