Record of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA) Board Meeting of 13 July 2009, in the Club Hotel Ballroom, as recorded for JICA.
(Note: IPJI has placed some text in "bold" type for emphasis and has clarified some statements)
Chairman Bob Krueger brought the meeting to order at 9:32 AM. Board members present were Buddy DeLoach, Mike Hodges, Sybil Lynn, and Ben Porter. Also present was Park Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks. On the telephone were Board members Chris Clark (DNR Commissioner) and Richard Royal, and Denise Whiting-Pack from the Office of the Attorney General. The audience numbered about 52 persons.
Chairman Krueger announced that public comment will no longer be accepted following individual committee reports. Rather, all public comments will now be heard following all of the committee meetings, at the end of the Committee Sessions. The three-minute-duration rule will continue to apply.
HISTORIC PRESERVATION/CONSERVATION COMMITTEE:
Chairman Royal reported that the Authority has applied for a State OPB grant in the amount of $10.7 million out of the 2011 OPB budget. The focus of the proposal is the stabilization of the historic structures in Jekyll Island State Park and a major reworking of visitor exhibits and programs. Royal clarified that this would be a grant; repayment would not be required. Museum Director John Hunter announced that his division rolled out on 1 July a new policy for event use for historic structures. This policy, which will result in added revenue from historic structures, will be announced on the Authority website in the coming weeks. Hunter announced that the refurbishment of Indian Mound Cottage will be completed this week, after 13 months of work.
Chairman Hodges stated that a final financial report will not be available until the end of July, because of the fact that the end of June is the end of the Park’s fiscal year, and a variety of adjustments to the fiscal-year bottom line must yet be calculated. He offered a few preliminary values: revenues, June – near $1.6 million, near 20% below budget; year-to-date revenues near $16.3 million, near 11% below budget; June expenses near 25% below budget; year-to-date expenses near 1/3 below budget. Year-to-date net operating income is now estimated at about $1.3 million, about 1/3 below budget. This will allow a deposit of about $100,000 into the Park’s Reserve Fund, even after bond payments and capital commitments. Hodges congratulated Director Hooks and Accounting Director Marjorie Johnson and their staffs for accomplishing this financial feat. At the end of the month, the final financial figures for the fiscal year will be placed on the Authority website. Chairman Krueger seconded Hodges’ congratulation to Hooks and Johnson for their financial dexterity.
Chairman Hodges listed several 3-year lease-renewal offers to the shop owners on Pier Road in the Historic District. All lease rates were the higher of base rent ($7 per square foot) or 3% of gross revenues, and leases would initiate on 1 August 2009. The Finance Committee approved the lease renewals.
Chairman Hodges presented two potential capital-improvement projects for Committee approval. One was a transportation project ($200,000 from federal monies, $50,000 matching from JISPA derived from parking fees), essentially consisting of phase 3 of the construction of the bike-path circuit, concentrating on filling in the gap on the south end of the Park. The second capital request was for funds for purchase of a new ambulance (the current ambulance is ten years old, has 90,000 miles on its odometer, and is experiencing an increasing breakdown frequency). The proposed purchase would be from Customworks of LaGrange, Georgia ($111,580, the lowest of three bids). An application has been made to the State OPB, which restricts the rate of vehicle purchases. The Committee approved the two capital requests.
Chairman Hodges described a proposed agreement with Comcast to provide broadband services to the Jekyll Island State Park Campground. The broadband service would be resold within the Campground. Chris Clark inquired whether the Campground would make a profit selling the Comcast service? Answer: yes. The Committee approved the Comcast contract.
Chairman Hodges noted that the tenant at RedBug Pub and Pizza has requested that his lease be amended to include a 192-square-foot storage building. The base rent would be increased by $176 per month. The Committee approved the amendment.
Chairman Hodges announced that the Authority has just had an audit of hotel/motel tax payments within the Park completed by the Georgia State Department of Audits, the first in about 8 years. Preliminary results show that some money will be recouped, at least enough to cover the cost of the audit. Director Hooks pointed out that some of the audit findings were in favor of the hoteliers rather than the Park Authority.
Chairman Hodges reported the Board’s decision to postpone the delivery to the Board and the public of the final report of the Bleakly Group regarding their recommendations for the potential offering of lease extensions to the Park’s residents. The report was to have been presented at the 13 July meeting, but due to a full agenda, the report will be presented at a special Board meeting on 27 July at 10:00 AM in Beachside Hall.
Chris Clark remarked that daily parking fees at Georgia State Parks had been raised from $3 to $5 in May. Now the Stone Mountain Authority has also raised its daily parking fee from $3 to $5. Clark suggested that the Jekyll Island State Park Authority also consider this fee increase. Chairman Krueger asked whether Clark was requesting that the Jekyll fee be raised? Answer: our fee should be in line with that of the other State Parks. Ben Porter moved that Jekyll’s fee be raised to $5. Director Hooks requested of Marjorie Johnson the date of the last raising of the Jekyll daily parking fee? Answer: I believe it was 1999. Several persons clarified that the motion to change the Park’s fee applies only to the daily fee. Any consideration of change to the annual fee would come at a later date. Director Hooks noted that signage would need changing, and other public notice could be delivered via the media and the internet. August first was chosen as the date of initiation for the new fee. The Committee approved the new, higher fee.
Chairman Lynn called upon Human Resources Director Cornell Harvey. Harvey announced long-term Faithful Service Awards. One of these went to Fire Marshall and Captain David Smith of the Jekyll Island State Park Fire Department, who has served the Park Authority for 30 years, beginning as an Emergency Medical Technician. Smith expressed his pleasure at working for the Fire Department, and expressed his gratitude to all of the friends that he has made during his tenure. A second, 30-year Faithful Service Award went to Jan Caton. Sea Turtle Director Terry Norton thanked Caton for her efforts on behalf of sea-turtle conservation on Jekyll Island, both before and following establishment of the Sea Turtle Center. Norton named one of his patients for Jan (“Caton”); this patient is doing very well, and should be releasable within the next month. Norton also expressed regret that he is losing Erika Kemler from his staff at the end of the month; Kemler also has had a loggerhead patient named for her.
Chairman Porter called upon Marketing Director Eric Garvey. Garvey announced a hotel co-op program, in which the Park Authority Marketing group will produce advertising in cooperation with hoteliers in the Park. A cornerstone of the program will be offering of vouchers for hotel/entertainment savings, in return for advertising space/time. For an additional $20,000 from the Park and the Park’s hotels, a $172,000 advertising campaign will be conducted, mostly in Southern Living and Coastal Living (55% on the internet versions of these outlets). This campaign will save money by avoiding advertising agencies.
Garvey announced that beginning immediately, his division will be meeting monthly with the Park’s hotel managers.
Garvey reported that the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, which currently meets in Savannah, has committed to returning to Jekyll Island State Park beginning in 2013. Garvey estimated the economic impact of this meeting at $947,000. Chairman Porter inquired about the method of calculating this figure? Answer: it is based on $282 per room night consumed (all spending per room night used, not just the spending for the room). Garvey observed that his division has a goal of booking 150 conventions per year.
Director Hooks noted that he regularly receives complaints from visitors regarding the prices charged by hotels whose rooms do not seem to be up to the standard expected for the price charged. These complainants added that they are seeing bargains at other coastal destinations, but are not seeing the same sorts of bargains in Jekyll Island State Park. This particularly applies to the rental houses. Hooks and Porter encouraged Garvey to initiate some meaningful discussion of this issue at his monthly meeting with hotel managers. Garvey agreed that the Park’s hotel rates have continued to climb, even in the soft national economy, while rates at competitive destinations have clearly come down.
A presentation was made by representatives of HHCP, the architectural/engineering firm hired to design the Linger Longer Jekyll Beach Village, the new convention center, and the adjacent signature park. The presenters were Mike Chatham of HHCP and Greg Bryla of Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin, the partnering landscape-design firm. Chatham and Bryla described the design and rationale for the new layout of the Beach Village, the new design of the new convention center, and the new signature park to be built north of the new convention center. Chatham listed the main guiding principles that they considered in putting together a new design: a) the experience of visitors should be recreational and educational; b) visits should be affordable for all Georgians – multiple price points are important; c) visitors should want to return to the Park following their visits – doing too much would be counterproductive; d) economic sustainability must be achieved; e) and most importantly, the natural resources of the Park must be protected and maintained. Descriptions of the remainder of the presentation are available in the Brunswick News (Volume 107, Number 264, front page, 14 July 2009), the Georgia Times Union (Number 195, 14 July 2009, front page), and on the Park Authority website (<http://www.jekyllislandauthority.org/beachvillagepresentation.htm>). Key points include: a) the new convention center will not include any part of the current Convention Center; b) the new convention center will face the beach, and not be the first building seen upon driving into the Park; c) before the current Convention Center is razed, the Morgan Tennis Center will be converted into a ballroom as the centerpiece of a temporary convention area; d) as a part of the construction of the signature park north of the new convention center, the sand dunes along the beachfront will be rebuilt.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chairman Krueger reported that all comments submitted regarding the draft Pet Ordinance had been taken into account, and that the Ordinance was now ready for adoption. The Committee voted to adopt the Pet Ordinance.
Director Hooks reported that a large crowd had visited the Park over the 4 July holiday (6,722 vehicles on 4 July 2009, compared to 5,648 on 4 July 2008). These were the largest crowds since 2002.
Hooks reported that the forms for application for the 10-year residential-lease renewals had been sent out on 9 July to all persons who had responded to the first letter of inquiry. Only 30 residential owners have not yet responded adequately to the first name/address-verification letter. There is a $10 filing fee required when the application forms are signed, notarized, and submitted. Notarization can be obtained gratis from the Authority staff. Applications are due in the Authority offices by 15 August.
Hooks observed that operation of US Naval training helicopters over the Park during evening hours has occasioned noise complaints. The Authority is discussing the problem with Naval representatives.
Hooks listed some new marketing efforts that have been discussed recently, including targeting of local military groups, face-to-face marketing of the Park at Georgia Welcome Centers, and promotion of fishing opportunities.
Hooks reported that the Park Authority will be tying the Park’s bicycling route into the Coastal Georgia Greenway (Savannah to St. Marys), which will be connected to a 3,000-mile bicycling route (Maine to Key West). The Coastal Greenway expects to receive federal funding of $100 million for construction. The City of Savannah and McIntosh County will be the central applicants for the grant. The Jekyll portion of the plan would be a six-mile stretch along the Causeway. Hooks distributed to the Board a resolution of support for the project. Chairman Krueger inquired about requirements for matching funds? Answer: none are required.
Sea Turtle Center Director Terry Norton presented a 2-year progress report on the Center. Norton reminded the group of the main goals of the Center: a) to provide rehabilitation services for injured and sick turtles; b) to educate the public about the unique nature of sea turtles; c) to educate the public regarding the plight of sea turtles around the world (declining habitat and threats from industrial and recreational activities of humans); d) to train professional students in sea-turtle care and habitat management; e) to develop research programs into turtle diseases and sea-turtle conservation; f) historical preservation. Norton credited excellent staff, interns, and volunteers, and the Jekyll Island State Park Authority and Jekyll Island Foundation structure for much of the success of the Center. To date, 72 sea turtles (mostly loggerheads, but also kemps ridleys and greens) have been admitted to the Center’s care facilities; 37 have been released, and 19 are still under care (71% rehabilitation success, a high rate for sea-turtle hospitals). Norton thanked Larissa Harris and Stefanie Ouellette for their work on the new Center website (<http://www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org/>). Norton announced a renovation of the Center’s gift shop, which now sells some unique conservation-oriented items, and he invited everyone to come and shop there. Norton described a variety of educational programs run by the Center, including outreach to children at local schools and teacher workshops at the Center, and noted that the Center is unique among sea-turtle centers in that it has a large public-viewing window into its hospital quarters, and an elevated boardwalk from which the public can view the Center’s patients. Attendance at the Center was 110,000 in its first year, and 90,000 in the last fiscal year, and the media have provided publicity for the Park by producing articles on the Center.
The Center has received an Americorps grant for expansion of its intern-training program. Research at the Center has been published in several peer-reviewed journals. The Center has been involved in several international projects, including training in the conservation of leatherback and hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean, and hosting Asian scholars at the Center. The Center also focuses on protection of the nests of sea turtles in Jekyll Island State Park – the most recent Park update is that we have 61 nests (including two deposited by the same leatherback). One of the aspects of protection of sea-turtle nesting habitat is assistance in the enforcement of the Park’s Beach Lighting Ordinance, and education of the public regarding the negative effects of light upon sea-turtle nesting success. Norton recounted the amazing GPS tracking of several turtles that the Center has released. Norton reported that boat-propeller strikes have become more common since the early 90s. The Center has developed a treatment of such wounds with honeybee comb. This successful strategy has now been adopted at other turtle-treatment centers. This is a treatment that has also been used at the Center on diamondback terrapins suffering from automobile strikes. A University of Georgia graduate student is now working with the Center on finding a management strategy that will reduce the loss of terrapins on the Park’s Causeway (early findings that may help: terrapins come onto land to deposit eggs mostly at high tide, and they emerge most frequently at a few key sites).
Norton concluded by noting that the Georgia Sea Turtle Center evolved from a program that he initiated through the St. Catherines Island Foundation (The Georgia Wildlife Health Program). With the Sea Turtle Center at its core, Jekyll Island State Park has an opportunity to be a leader in wildlife and ecosystem-health conservation initiatives both locally (focused upon our own threatened and endangered species) and internationally.
Park Authority Public Safety Director Jason Richardson reported that the Park has recently obtained the recognition of the international Firewise Community. Richardson thanked Mark McClellan (Chief Forest Ranger for Glynn County), Park Conservation Manager Christa Frangiamore and resident volunteers Nancy Rowan and Loraine Donohue for their efforts in making this achievement possible. The basic goal of the Firewise program is to educate the homeowner regarding methods of self-protection from wildfires. Please see http://www.jekyllislandauthority.org/Landscaping_Firewise_Manual.pdf.
Chairman Krueger announced that he and Director Hooks would meet this week with Georgia DOT officials to discuss the relocation of the collection facility for the Park’s Parking Fee westward onto the Causeway, and the construction of one or two more roundabouts as part of the Park’s entranceway. This would prevent traffic backing up onto the bridge at the Park’s entrance. Krueger and Hooks will also meet with Governor Perdue to discuss progress in the Park’s revitalization.
Mindy Egan inquired about the Parking Fee. Would the new $5 fee be good for the duration of a visitor’s stay in the Park, as is true at other State Parks? Answer: the fee policy in Jekyll Island State Park will remain as it is now. Egan also asked about the plan for the heights of buildings in the new Beach Village. Many folks have expressed dismay at the fact that multistory buildings are planned, which the Park’s current Development Guidelines allow. She hoped that the new HHCP emphasis on aesthetics would involve lower limitation of heights of buildings.
David Egan expressed surprise at the HHCP plan for parking for the new convention center. It is located to the north of the center, and coalesces with the parking for the day visitors, raising the possibility of inadequate space for both day visitors and conventioneers, given the prospect of 150 conventions per year and increased day visitation. Egan wondered how the Board and/or HHCP had reached the conclusion that the 470 spaces would be enough, and had they attempted to monitor current rates of parking-space utilization in the lot north of the Convention Center? Mike Chatham answered that he had looked at current parking rates and spaces, but had also looked at the possibility that some portion of the conventioneers could be shuttled in during their meetings, as is commonly done at other major convention centers. Egan attempted to continue his questioning, but was cut off due to the 3-minute limit by Chairman Krueger. Ben Porter challenged Egan: did his question indicate that he is pleased with the revitalization progress? Answer: I am very positive about a number of the revitalization efforts on Jekyll Island.
Frank Mirasola expressed surprise at the speed with which the decision to increase the Parking Fee was made. He inquired about the rationale for the increase from $3 to $5 at the other State Parks? Answer: to fall in line with other divisions of State government, in their attempt to bring expenses in line with income. Director Hooks added that he understood that the fee increases were made to help meet State budget shortfalls. Mirasola then assumed that the other Parks would send their new fee monies to the State’s general fund. Would JISP also submit its new fee monies to the State? Answer: no. Mirasola continued to be puzzled by the rapidity of the decision to raise the parking fee for Jekyll Island State Park.
Pat Overholt noted that some Park residents have had considerable difficulty in getting their Comcast service repaired. She asked that during the negotiations with Comcast over the Campground broadband contract, the company be asked to remedy the slow-repair situation for residents. She also thanked the Board, the JISPA staff, and their Park friends, for their sympathetic remarks regarding the loss of their grandson in May.
Gloria Zocchi asked for an update on the proposed new Verizon cellphone tower? Answer: the contract was signed today, and now a 3-month environmental study has been started. Construction should start in November or December of 2009.
Mindy Egan pointed out that having only 3 minutes to speak, limited to the end of all committee sessions, results in speakers interested in more than one committee’s presentations, being forced to omit what might be some very important comments. Chairman Krueger responded that he sees the point, and is still evaluating this new policy.
Joe Malbasa commented that Director Hooks and his staff should be complimented for bringing the Park’s expenses so closely in line with the Park’s reduced income. Malbasa also warned that the new $5 fee could be counterproductive. Keeping the lower fee might have kept Jekyll more competitive with other destinations. Malbasa expressed pleasure at the prospect of being able to see the ocean as one drives into the Park, according to the new HHCP plan.
Chairman Krueger adjourned the Committee Sessions at 12:16 PM.
Steven Y. Newell, Jekyll Island Citizens Association