Record of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA) Board Meeting of 23 May 2011, in the Morgan Center of the Interim Convention Center, 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 9:30 AM. Board members present were Buddy DeLoach, Mike Hodges, Laura Lanier, Sybil Lynn, and Richard Royal. Steve Croy, Mark Williams, and Nancy Gallagher (State Attorney General’s Office) were on conference telephone. Also present were Park Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks, and legal counsel Brooks Stillwell. The audience numbered about 61 persons.
CONSERVATION AND PRESERVATION
Chairman Royal announced that it is expected that the Park’s Conservation Plan will be presented for consideration by the Park Authority Board at the June Board meeting. The Plan will be posted on the Park’s website two weeks prior to the meeting. Dr. Terry Norton provided an update on the Conservation Plan preparation. [The first several minutes of this were not audible, due to malfunction of the podium microphone.] Sea Turtle Center personnel are planning distribution of cards to hotel guests explaining the Park’s Beach Lighting Ordinance. The proposed new terrapin-crossing signs and speed limits were not approved for 2011, but may be for 2012. The terrapin-nesting mounds have been moved for better concealment and effectiveness. The Center is increasing the diversity of its health monitoring of the Park’s wildlife – several raccoons and deer have been necropsied. The Conservation Plan Education Subcommittee has met and begun implementation of the education-oriented portions of the Plan. The Center and the Park Authority are working with Will Hicks of DNR to obtain counts of deer, via spotlighting at night. An assessment will also be made of current effects of deer browsing on the Park’s flora, as part of the development of a management plan for deer. Ticks are being collected and analyzed to determine the extent of potential transmission of disease agents (e.g. Lyme disease). It is planned to involve the Southeastern Wildlife Disease Cooperative (of UGA) to help analyze the health of the Park’s deer population.
Chairman Royal noted that Norton had suggested that the July Board meeting would be the one targeted for submission of the Park’s Conservation Plan, whereas the Board had expected a June submission. It was agreed that the Plan should not be rushed to completion, so the July meeting will be the likely target. (At the June 20 JIA Board meeting Dr. Norton announced that the final version of the Conservation Plan will submitted to the board at its July 18 meeting. The plan will be published on the Jekyll Island website on July 1.)
Chairman Hodges reported total revenue for the month of April of $1.5 million (5% over budget). Fiscal year-to-date total revenue was $13.7 million (2% over budget). Net operating cash income for April was $136,000 (2% under budget). Year-to-date net was $497,000 ($428,000 over budget). Director Hooks explained that a majority of the change from the previous fiscal year in the expense category was due to a change in budget coding (operational maintenance items were included in expenditures rather than being listed under the capital category). Also, expenses under repairs to facilities are up due largely to the expenses of changing Blackbeard’s Restaurant to Fins on the Beach, and to the Park Authority’s portion of the cost of resurfacing the tennis courts. Chairman Hodges noted that total hotel revenue is down from last fiscal year due to the impact (about $250,000) of the closing of Jekyll Oceanfront Resort.
Chairman Lynn called upon Director Hooks, who introduced the Park’s new legal associate, Chris O’Donnell, who is now working on leasing and other issues, relieving the pressure on Brooks Stillwell and Nancy Gallagher. Hooks also announced the return of Spencer Bookman to the golf-course staff; Bookman had received many compliments on his work during his previous tenure with the Park Authority. Hooks then made the point that interns have become very important to the Park Authority’s functioning, and asked three division heads to introduce their interns along with brief descriptions of their multiple projects (including planting of cabbage palms salvaged from the demolition of the old convention center, observation of alligator behavior, monitoring of marsh birds, etc.). Cliff Gawron (Landscape Director), Dr. Norton (Sea Turtle Center), and John Hunter (Museum Director), did so, and Norton also introduced Jeannie Miller, who oversees the Americorps program at the Sea Turtle Center. Hunter noted that his interns are serving as a part of the Maymester session at the University of Georgia.
Communications Director Eric Garvey complimented his Events team for the work that they do, as exemplified by the recent Ninth Annual Turtle Crawl Triathlon (he showed a video prepared by Events Director Beth Burnsed, who came in for hearty congratulations on her coordinating work on the triathlon). Director Hooks noted that 890 athletes (from 23 states) participated in the triathlon, and an army of volunteers helped out, under the direction of Maggie Taylor. Garvey showed a graph demonstrating that interest of the public in Jekyll Island State Park is sharply stimulated by the events held in the Park.
Garvey cited information contained in a recent marketing report by Authority Sales Director Kevin Udell: over a million dollars in group convention sales leads have been generated by the Park’s Atlanta sales representative (including a booking by Atlanta Gas Light); the Sea Turtle Symposium has been booked for February 2012; meeting planners are being invited to tour the Park to see why they should bring their meetings to Jekyll Island. A group has been hired to shop competing convention destinations, to determine how best to market Jekyll Island State Park, and implement best practices.
Garvey announced that the Park’s Dream Wedding Giveaway is now being launched. The lucky couple winning the contest will receive $72,000 in prizes.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Director Hooks described a five-year agreement that has been reached with Young International Beverages to co-market their own along with Jekyll Island’s businesses. The Jekyll Island Foundation is pursuing this project, with the Authority Board’s permission.
The Board passed a resolution to work with the Coastal Georgia Greenway in its efforts to build a coastal bike trail from the Florida to the South Carolina borders, and including the Jekyll Island State Park bike paths, to be connected by paths along the Jekyll Causeway.
The three main developers planning to build the two hotels and the retail/condominium center in the new convention-center area (the Beach Village) gave presentations regarding the status of each of their projects. The key points that were made follow.
Jekyll Landmark Associates is planning the full-service, 200-room hotel, located behind the beach dunes. Architectural drawings were presented. The east side of the building will have a 2-story glass face, to provide a maximized view of the ocean. The base elevation above mean high water of the hotel will be 16.5 feet. There will be four full floors, and a partial fifth floor. Nine percent of the building will be 64 feet tall. Three hotel brands are strongly interested in this hotel: Hilton, Westin, and Marriott; all three have stated that they are willing to provide financial input into the project (Georgia’s new tax break for tourism-promoting projects has helped). A winner among the three has not been chosen; that decision will likely be made at about the same time as the decision on financing. Discussions regarding a financing package have been held with several banks, including very serious negotiations with BB&T, but nothing has been concluded. The financing proposals have now been revised to include the positive effects of the new tourism-promotional tax break – Chairman Krueger and Director Hooks were thanked for their support of the tax break as the bill creating it worked its way through the legislature and onto the Governor’s desk. No definite timetable for conclusion of financial negotiations could be offered, but it was suggested that a commitment could be obtained by the end of summer 2011. (It was noted that it is believed that financing for a new full-service hotel has not been obtained anywhere in the USA during the last two years.)
Phelps Development (along with owner/operator Chatrala Group) is in charge of the mid-price-hotel project in the Beach village, to be located west of the full-service hotel, alongside and south of the retail/condominium center, with separation by a courtyard. Just a day or two earlier, Chatrala representatives met with an investor group in Montreal, Canada, to finalize terms of financing for the mid-price hotel. Also, Chatrala has recently obtained a commitment from the Hyatt Place brand to lend its name to the hotel. Jones, Lang Lasalle will manage the funding, and begin by conducting a feasibility study examining the competence of the firms to be involved in the project and the likelihood of financial success of the hotel (a positive review is expected, in part due to the new tourism-project tax-break). It is expected that about 40% of the project’s funding will be received in about 45 days. It is planned to try to start construction as early as August, 2011, if the series of required permits can be swiftly obtained, with completion around mid-summer, 2012.
Winding Road is planning the retail center with loft condominiums (46,000 square feet of commercial operations with 63 lofts above). First-round construction pricing from Brasfield & Gorie has come in below the anticipated costs. It is uncertain whether the new tourism-project tax break will apply to all parts of the retail center. Chairman Krueger informed the Winding Road people that it is his understanding, after discussions with legislative contacts, that the Beach Village retail center will qualify for tax breaks. The Park Authority’s consultant on the Convention Center/Beach Village, HHCP, is working with Winding Road as the retail center plans are drawn up. The retail area will consist of three buildings, R1, R2, and R3, essentially in order as one enters the Village between the new Convention Center and the mid-price hotel and moves to the east toward the beach. R3 will be near the beach, north of the full-service hotel. Each retail building will consist primarily of one story of retail business operations, and three stories of office space and loft condominiums. Most of the condominiums (46) will be in the beach building. Some of the two and three-bedroom condominiums will be lock-off units that can be rented by more than one lessee per rental period. The loft lessees will have access to a pool and fitness center. Businesses in the retail center will include a copy/mail office, a bank/atm, and restaurants. Consideration of sea-turtle conservation will be maintained when designing lighting, and windows will receive tinted glazing, so that interior lighting will not be visible, or have much-reduced visibility on the beach. Chairman Krueger asked for a clarification: the plans for the retail businesses are illustrative only at this point, with no signed contracts? Answer: There are no signed contracts at this point. Winding Road has been working with the Coastal Regional Commission’s Economic Development Office on an EB5 submission. It was necessary to change the submission recently, due to the inclusion of a non-US investor becoming involved. This submission was 99% complete, and it is expected that the submission will be approved, partly because the retail center is expected to create about 500 jobs. Involvement of the EB5 program is expected to cause delays of some months in project initiation. Discussions are ongoing with investor groups, regarding bridge loans, or joining as partners. Part of the difficulty in obtaining financing agreements is the inclusion of condominiums in the retail center. Buddy DeLoach inquired about the federal agency involved in consideration of the EB5 submission? Answer: Immigration. DeLoach inquired about the likelihood that EB5 visas will be available for the applicant involved in Winding Roads’ submission? Answer: There are many more visas available than are issued every year, and the Beach Village project fits the EB5 program requirements perfectly.
Director Hooks announced that the Park Authority has prepared a Beach Use Ordinance. This ordinance will govern activities such as horseback riding and protection of critical nesting habitat of federally protected sea turtles and shorebirds. This offering of the draft ordinance is not the beginning of a first reading, but an opportunity for further comment and revision. This ordinance is being modeled after those of other beach communities, with input of Karl Burgess of DNR/CRD.
Three firms have been shortlisted for hiring as operators of the new Convention Center: Global Spectrum, SMG, and Venue Works. Their proposals were due on 31 May; these will be reviewed, and a recommendation of the successful candidate will then be made to the board.
An early season, 2-day promotion online for Summer Waves resulted in a record number of season passes being sold: 4,416.
The Park’s Legislative House Oversight Committee has been named. Members are Representatives Roger Lane, Mark Hamilton, and Ann Purcell.
The Park’s Landscape and Maintenance divisions helped with United Way’s Days of Caring work in Brunswick, and United Way informed Director Hooks that the Park’s contribution was invaluable.
The new E-Guides were introduced by Museum Director John Hunter. These electronic hand-held units will permit visitors to the Historic District to perform self-guided tours of the District. The tours are roughly 1 hour 45 minutes long, and are keyed to a map. The rental cost is $8.
Chairman Krueger called upon the Board members to review the draft Beach Use Ordinance, so that it can be revised for first reading at the June Board meeting. He congratulated Phelps Development on their news of financing commitments, and urged the other two Beach Village developers to get their financing in hand ASAP.
Pat Overholt complimented Winding Road on the quality of their plans, but she emphasized the vital importance of stores like Maxwell’s and IGA, and noted that there was no mention of such businesses in Winding Road’s presentation. Chairman Krueger reminded Overholt that the plans shown were purely illustrative, and that no contracts with retail businesses have been signed.
Steve Newell stated that he was glad to hear the plans of HHCP for turtle-friendly lighting to be used in the retail-center/condominium buildings, but pointed out that no mention of following of the Park’s Beach Lighting Ordinance was made by the hotel developers. Chairman Krueger assured Newell that there would be full compliance with the Beach Lighting Ordinance by Beach Village developers. Director Hooks noted that the developers in the audience were all nodding their heads “yes”.
Norm Haft was impressed with the presentations, but was disappointed to hear emphasis on condominium construction in the presentation on the retail center. He worried that the condominiums will be very difficult to sell in today’s economic climate. He also pointed out asynchrony in the projected timing of completion of the Convention Center and its neighboring retail center. Chairman Krueger stated that the condo units will be hotel-type units, that will complement the accommodation facilities in the hotels.
Gloria Zocchi wondered about the nature of the non-US investment involved in the potential financing of the retail center? Answer: When a foreign investor puts X amount of money into a US project, he/she qualifies for a temporary green card, followed by a permanent green card if ten jobs are created by his/her investment.
Mindy Egan noted that in the Brunswick area, there are still stores closing and difficulties finding appropriate employees, and she worried that the Park’s Beach Village projects might not do well in this economic climate. Chairman Krueger countered that significant growth is projected for coastal Georgia, and felt that there was no reason to believe that Jekyll Island State Park would not be included.
Chairman Krueger adjourned the meeting at 12:08 PM.
Steven Y. Newell, Jekyll Island Citizens Association; produced after transcribing from a digital voice recorder