Record of the March 15, 2010 JekylI Island State Park Authority Board Meeting in the 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 9:35 AM. Board members present were Mike Hodges, Sybil Lynn, and Ben Porter. Chris Clark, Sam Kellett, Richard Royal and legal counsel Denise Whiting-Pack were on conference phone. Also present was Park Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks. The audience numbered about 42 persons.
CONSERVATION AND PRESERVATION
Chairman Royal deferred to Director Hooks regarding special projects in the Historic District. Hooks introduced some new joint Authority/Foundation projects planned for funding in part via donations to the Jekyll Island Foundation. Museum Director John Hunter described the proposed projects for the Board. There are three main components of the projects. One component is the daily presentations to the public. These are planned to be shifting in part to hand-held multimedia tours. Hand-held devices (akin to ipods) will be used by visitors as they travel through the Historic District. This type of tour will replace part of the usual tram-tour program. Tour staff will be diverted to more hands-on interactions and specialty topical tours with the tour guests. Testing of the new tours, the funding for which is already in place, will be performed this summer.
The second component will be remodeling of the main Historic District Museum, the exhibits for which were put together in 1983. The gift shop will be moved to the front of the building. Exhibits will be made more interactive, and provide visions of life during the millionaire's era from several perspectives. The changes to the building, including climate control for the parts now not air-conditioned and removal of the existing theater, will cost about $2 million.
The third component is preservation-oriented. It involves restoration of Hollybourne Cottage, which has attracted a lot of interest recently. The plan is to show visitors the art and craft involved in cottage restoration. There will be a parallel at Hollybourne to the surgery window at the Sea Turtle Center – tourists will be able to watch restoration and ask questions of Museum interns, staff and professionals. Hollybourne will be brought back to life slowly over time, so that visitors can visit repeatedly and see how the cottage changes. The cost is anticipated to be about $2.5 million over five to ten years. Funding sources for components two and three are now being sought in conjunction with the Foundation.
Frank Mirasola inquired whether the new approach to renovation at Hollybourne Cottage would block the ongoing volunteer work being done there on windows, etc.? Answer: no.
Chairman Hodges reported total revenues for February of $886,000 ($85,000 under budget). Year-to-date total revenues are $10.1 million ($136,000 under budget and $535,000 less than for the same period in the previous fiscal year). Net operating cash income for February was negative $242,000, $37,000 better than had been budgeted. Net operating cash income for the fiscal year to date is $269,000 (compared to an anticipated deficit of $206,000). Accounting Director Marjorie Johnson observed that State of Georgia revenues compared to the previous fiscal year were down for the month of February by 9.9% and year-to-date by 12.7%, considerably worse than the Park's 4-5% downturn.
Johnson reported that year-to-date vehicle visitation as recorded at the greeting station is down for the fiscal year-to-date by 7%. Chris Clark remarked that the State Parks in general are showing vehicle-visitation that is up or steady for the year-to-date. He added, though, that the counting method has been changed for other State Parks to number of individuals, rather than number of vehicles.
Chairman Hodges reported a hotel occupancy rate for the fiscal year-to-date of 39.5%, compared to 37% in the previous fiscal year, and the average daily rate was about $10 better than in the previous year.
Hodges announced that the State auditors had cited the Authority for failure to meet financial reporting deadlines. A corrective-action plan has been submitted in response to that finding. The auditors also called for the Authority to establish a policy for guidelines for the acquisition of State purchasing cards by Authority staffers. Johnson stated that the Authority now has its own policy for reviewing the qualifications of staff members who might need purchasing cards.
Johnson described two new proposed leases. First, Larry's Giant Subs' (the concessionaire at Summer Waves) renewed lease would continue under the same terms for five years (no base rent, and accelerating percentage rent as revenue rises). Sprint's lease on their watertower antenna expires in 2011, so they are proposing to extend that lease (5 years plus two 5-year renewals; annual fee increased to $34,500, with a 15% increase at renewals). Director Hooks added that the Verizon Tower now has a functional antenna, but there are apparently still weak spots in the Park's Verizon service. Hooks called for those who are still not receiving a strong Verizon signal to contact his office, so that Verizon can decide whether the tower's antennas need some repositioning. Johnson is also pursuing discussions with Nextel and AT&T about improving cellphone service in the Park.
Chairman Hodges observed that the lease-extension offer for the Park's residents remains in the hands of the Attorney General's Office, where they are attempting to resolve the legal problems with the current version (principally the liability-insurance requirements and the defaults due to other than non-payment of the lease fee). Hodges assured the audience that it is the Board's intention to complete the lease-offer revisions just as soon as it is possible.
Pat Overholt suggested that the Board should extend the period for consideration of the new lease-extension offer, in view of the fact that it is taking much longer than had been anticipated to provide a final offer. Chairman Krueger replied that the primary business considerations are well known, so he would like to see the extended leases go into effect on 1 January 2011. Overholt reiterated that the time for decisions is getting shorter and shorter. Krueger agreed, but felt that the months left until 2011 should be adequate for decision-making. Overholt responded that that would be true if the lease offer is finalized shortly. Krueger remarked that if it takes a while for the lease to be finalized, then the months for decision-making would be fewer.
Richard Van Iderstyne stated that he has had many inquiries about the intransigence of the Board Chairman regarding the initiation date of the extended leases – he asked why the start of 2011 is such an important date for this initiation? Ben Porter interjected that it is not just Chairman Krueger pushing for the first of 2011 as the extended-lease starting date – he is also set on this date, because of the considerable time already spent on this problem. Committee Chairman Hodges added that a deadline is necessary for bringing the matter to a conclusion, and that there will be enough time for appropriate due diligence.
Lisa Kent respectfully disagreed with the Board regarding the necessity for extended-lease initiation on 1 January 2011, especially in view of the fact that the current leases do not expire anytime soon (not until 2049). She felt that since the Board has had considerable difficulty over an extended period arriving at a suitable lease-extension offer, the residents should have an equivalent period of time to decide what to do about the offer that will eventually be on the table. Chairman Krueger thanked Kent for her comments.
Chairman Lynn called upon Human Resources Director Cornell Harvey. Harvey presented a 15-year Faithful Service Award to Landscape Superintendent Cliff Gawron. Harvey expressed eternal gratefulness to Gawron for his outstanding performance and key role in developing and overseeing management of the Park's landscapes. Gawron received an extended applause.
Harvey reported that the Authority now has 166 part-time employees and 161 full-time employees (total 327). During the summer season, more employees will be brought on board to man Summer Waves.
In the absence of Chairman Croy, Krueger observed that two bills have been introduced in the State House [NB: these are HB 1325, designed to make more reasonable the definitions of "undeveloped" acreage in the Park, and HB 1361, designed to cause the Authority Board to contain members with expertise in management of public land and natural ecosystems]. Krueger noted that the bills have been put into the State Institutions and Properties Committee, chaired by Representative Terry Barnard. Richard Royal remarked that he is following both pieces of legislation closely. (Rep.Barnard scheduled the bills for a hearing on the last committte day available. However, he refused to allow the bills to be voted on in committee. Rep. Barnard abruptly canceled the hearing all together. The bills died in committee.)
Chairman Porter called upon Senior Marketing Director Eric Garvey. Garvey reported that 1,065 specialty sea-turtle auto-license tags have now been sold. The tags can now be ordered online, for mailing to the buyer. This can be done at any time, not just at the time of renewal.
The Marketing Department has been investigating the business provided to the Park by its winter guests; surveys have been sent out, and focus-group sessions have been held. The information sought includes the main driving factors for choice of the Park, the length of stay, the type of accommodation, etc. Garvey hopes to improve the experiences of winter guests, many of whom expressed passion for Jekyll Island State Park.
The new Jekyll Island State Park website will be launched on 17 March. It unifies all of the current web properties into one entity (<http://www.jekyllislandauthority.org/>). Social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter) will be better integrated into the new website.
The annual Birding and Nature Festival (1,000 – 2,000 participants) will be integrated into the Park's marketing program this year, since it has been dropped by Audubon and others. Lydia Thompson has been hired to head-up the operation of the Festival. Coastal Resources and Non-game Wildlife Divisions of DNR will also be involved.
Pat Overholt described her recent experience working as a greeter at the Jekyll Island Arts Association Arts Festival. She sees the winter period in the Park as a virtual artists' colony, since so many talented craftspeople converge in the Park. The Arts Festival draws an audience from far and wide. She encouraged the Board to attend gatherings such as the Arts Festival. She commended the winter guests of the Park as a "great asset". Overholt reminded the group that the Jekyll Singers will have its spring concert on 23 March. Director Hooks took the opportunity to note that the Park Authority provides considerable assistance to the Arts Association, including the billboard advertising at the causeway entrance, the upkeep and utilities at Goodyear Cottage, and special rates for Cottage rental.
Richard Van Iderstyne observed that the Jekyll Airport set records for fly-ins in February. On three weekends consecutively, there were 24-28 airplanes at the Airport. He made the point that many activities in the Park, involving residential volunteers, take place on weekends, when the Board is not present.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Director Hooks remarked that the Great Dunes Park is scheduled to be completed by the end of June. The closing of the current Shopping Center is scheduled for 17 September, so transition to the temporary shopping area (trailers in the parking lot just south of Oceanside Inn) is planned for the month of August. Construction at the temporary convention-center ballroom (the former Morgan Tennis Center) began on 8 March, and should be complete by the end of August. The final drawings for the new gas station/convenience store are expected by the end of March. Demolition of the old gas station should begin by 15 April, and construction by 1 May. Georgia DOT has assigned funds ($500,000 to be used alongside $1 million from the Park's parking fees) and a project number to the Jekyll Island State Park entryway proposal.
Project Manager Jim Broadwell noted that $2.2 million is needed for the Park's entryway project (the roadway area from the new Beach Village west to the new Parking Fee Booth where the Welcome Center is now. Presently he is working to reduce the project budget toward the currently available $1.5 million. In preparation for the construction of the new gas station/Dairy Queen, the roadway in that vicinity will be partially closed and converted into a 2-lane, bidirectional road. This change will be initiated in about 2 weeks. A few trees have been relocated to Summer Waves as a part of the roadway alteration.
Director Hooks announced two name changes for Park buildings. The Morgan Tennis Center will become the Morgan Center, and Morgan's Grill will become McCormick's Grill. (Cyrus Hall McCormick Jr. was a Jekyll Island Club member with special interest in golf on Jekyll Island, a famous inventor, and the head of the company that made McCormick Harvester farm machinery – information courtesy of Museum Director John Hunter.)
Jekyll Beachware has applied for and received a short-term lease (through the summer) on the store that was the Jekyll Pharmacy. They will also continue to operate their current store.
A 1-year contract has been signed with MMI (a management company) to manage Blackbeard's Restaurant. MMI is the current owner/operator of the King & Prince Resort on St. Simons Island. MMI has been doing consultant work for the Park Authority for years, especially helping with bulk purchases for the Convention Center. Ben Porter inquired whether a lessor is being considered for Blackbeard's? Answer: not at present, but after management problems have been resolved by MMI, a lessor might be sought.
Director Hooks announced that the Jekyll Campground will be expanded. Room will be provided for big rigs, and more privacy between campsites will be enabled. It is hoped that schematics will be available by the next Board meeting. These plans are partially based upon a focus session that was held recently with regular visitors to the Campground.
Hooks announced a photographic project – a Jekyll Island State Park coffee-table book is planned. Photos of the Park by local photographers will be accepted for consideration until 22 September.
Frank Mirasola commended the Park Authority for their dependable assistance with Park events such as the Jekyll Island Arts Festival. Mirasola thanked Harry Kicklighter and John Neidhardt of the Authority golf division for their assistance with the recent Lions Club Golf Tournament. Howard Sculthorpe pointed out that another Park event supported by the Authority is the Park's Red Cross Blood Drive. Sculthorpe can be contacted for appointments to give blood at the next Drive event.
Gloria Zocchi expressed pleasure at hearing that over one thousand persons have purchased sea-turtle auto-license tags (as did she), especially since they are rather expensive. She also asked when MMI would be beginning the management of Blackbeard's Restaurant? Answer: this week. Zocchi noted that demolition and demolition contracts have been described, but not contracts to build new facilities; she asked if such construction contracts have been let? Answer: yes; the Morgan Center (the old Morgan Tennis Center) and the new gas station/Dairy Queen, -- also, the new Convention Center contract will be awarded this summer, and the proposals for the hotels/retail in the new Beach Village are due by 23 March.
Richard Van Iderstyne expressed support for the aesthetic value of the present divided-entranceway road to the Park. He wondered whether this plan was based on a permit-application problem? Answer: no; the two-way road was planned to provide a better tree canopy, make room for the extra convention-center parking, and allow a more efficient flow of traffic out of the Park after crowded events such as the 4th-of-July fireworks show.
Lisa Kent inquired about the project number for the DOT entranceway work? Answer: Hooks' office will contact DOT and obtain the number. Kent also inquired about the numbers of the currently active State House bills concerning Jekyll Island State Park? Answer: we don't have those exact numbers. Ben Porter gestured toward the audience and stated that "these folks here will surely know". The audience reported the numbers: HB 1325 and HB 1361, and advised that the bills can be accessed at the Georgia General Assembly website (<http://www.legis.ga.gov/legis/2009_10/>). Kent stressed the fact that the Authority is having to deal with budget difficulties as mentioned during the Finance Committee session; she then wondered how it can be justified that the lease for a business (Larry's Giant Subs) seeking profits is not to be increased, while the offer to extend the residents' leases (the residents do not seek profits) involves increases? Answer: the homeowners have paid artificially low lease rates for years, whereas Larry's Subs pays a market-based rate. Kent respectfully reminded the Board that when the current residential leases were put in place, the lease fees were considered to be adequate through 2049. Kent wondered whether campers at the expanded Jekyll Campground would be required to pay higher rates? Answer: the rates at the Campground are reviewed every year.
Nancy Reed suggested that the new "Morgan Center" be named the "J. P. Morgan Center", because it would help clarify the historical background of the building (she has found in her volunteer work with tourists that there is a surprising shortage of knowledge of the Park's history).
Bob Moone thanked the Authority and Director Hooks and Museum Director Hunter for delaying setting up the construction fencing at the Morgan Center – this greatly assisted Moone and his co-volunteers in the parking of cars for the Arts Festival.
Chairman Krueger adjourned the meeting at 11:25 AM.
Respectfully submitted, Steven Y. Newell, Jekyll Island Citizens Association