Record of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA) Board Meeting of 20 April 2009, as recorded by Steven Y. Newell, Secretary, Jekyll Island Citizens Association
(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 Chris Clark, Mike Hodges, Sybil Lynn, Ben Porter, and Richard Royal. Also present were legal counsel Brooks Stillwell, Park Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks, Legislative Oversight Committee members Representative Jerry Keen and Senator Eric Johnson, and Denise Whiting-Pack from the Office of the Attorney General. The audience numbered about 50 persons. Krueger welcomed a new Board member, Chris Clark (Commissioner of Georgia DNR) and thanked exiting Board member Becky Kelley for her service toward making Jekyll a better place for all Georgians.
CONSERVATION AND PRESERVATION COMMITTEE
Chairman Royal called upon JISPA Museum Director John Hunter for a report. Hunter thanked Royal for becoming the Chair for Conservation and Preservation. Hunter noted that Museum staffers had assisted in holding a National History Day event sponsored by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. Two hundred middle and high-school students participated, from as far away as Macon. This was the second year for the event to be held in Jekyll Island State Park. The Museum also was involved in bringing the National Association for Interpretation to the Park for its regional Board meeting. The Board committed to bringing the Association’s regional conference to the Park in 2011 (150-200 interpretive staff members from historical sites). On 1 May, at Villa Mariana, scholar Shepherd Krech will present a seminar on his book about the relationships between birds and southern Native Americans. The JISPA Conservation Division has received word that it should revise the scope of its Coastal Incentive grant proposal submitted to Georgia DNR. This is usually a sign that the proposal has been well received, but is considered to be somewhat too costly. The proposal is for funding for interpretive signage for the Park’s beach-access points and natural trails. Hunter pointed out to Board members that their meeting packages contained a Park birding checklist that was produced with funding from a previous DNR Coastal Incentive grant. This type of information (identification information for birds and butterflies) will be used on the interpretive signage proposed in the current Coastal Incentive funding cycle.
Ben Porter inquired about the cost of restoration of Indian Mound Cottage? Answer: a little over $300,000. Porter congratulated the Authority staff on a great restoration job.
Mindy Egan asked about the status of the Park’s Conservation Plan? Answer: still under review at the Attorney General’s Office. Egan further inquired about the nature of the Attorney General’s review – just what is it that needs legal study in the Conservation Plan? Ben Porter stated that the Board wonders about this question also. Chairman Krueger noted that the Attorney General has a number of things going on. He observed that issues get prioritized, and the Conservation Plan has been repeatedly pushed down on the priority list. [IPJI Note; a draft of a Jekyll Island Conservation Plan has been sitting at the Attorney General’s office since November 12, 2007].
Chairman Hodges reported that revenues for March were 23% under budget ($1,139,000). Almost all income categories were under budget (exceptions: Campground and Sea Turtle Center). For the fiscal year-to-date (9 months), the total income is $11.7 million (against a budgeted $12.9 million), and $432,000 less than for the same 9 months of FY2007-2008. Expenses for March were reduced to the extent that they came in lower than income (the reductions were largely in human resources). Net operating income for the first 9 months of the fiscal year was $581,000. Percentage of rooms occupied is down from last fiscal year (60.5% versus 66.8%). Revenue per available room was down for this fiscal year versus last ($65 versus $67). Director Hooks remarked that his staff is currently planning for the 2009-2010 budget, and using a zero-based approach (going down to the bottom line and asking what really needs to be included).
Chairman Hodges requested that Director Hooks describe the new Segway Tour business that is underway in the Park. Hooks announced that a one-year lease has been provided to the Segway Tour operation. Segway units will not be rented. Rather, customers will be given a safety lesson, provided with a helmet, and then taken on a 1.5- to 2-hr ecotour, 6-8 customers per tour. The tour program will operate out of the former vending area at the Park’s gas station, and will generate $300 per month to the Authority. Hooks felt that this tour will offer an additional attraction to the Park. Hodges inquired about the identity of the vendor? Answer: Jekyll Island Fun Tours, with principals Rande and Danny Simpson, and Karen Hanson.
Chairman Hodges observed that a dossier of public comments has been assembled regarding the potential alterations to the residential leases in the Park, but comments from the public are still being sought.
Director Hooks announced a proposed new, 3-year lease agreement, with Great Dunes Pub & Pizza, operated by the current managers of Red Bug Pizza. The pizza restaurant would be expanding into the remainder of the building in which they are currently located. Beer and wine would be sold, but no hard liquor. The income to the Park Authority would be $1,314 per month, plus 3% of gross sales over $75,000. The Finance Committee approved the proposed lease.
Pat Overholt observed that it may be that individual Segway owners might decide to bring their units to the Park and use them on the bike paths. She asked how that would be controlled? Answer: Segways are not illegal on bike paths, according to State law, so the control issue may be problematic, but the Park’s Segway business will not be renting out Segways to individuals. Overholt also commented on the new pizza restaurant – she noted that the area in question is congested, and there are lots of children playing there. She hoped that safety would be carefully considered, and that the alcoholic drinks would not be allowed on the decks above the children’s playground. Ben Porter suggested that safety signage will be very important. Director Hooks noted that new parking arrangements are being considered for safety’s sake, and redirection of traffic.
Chairman Lynn announced two awards. Human Resources Director Cornell Harvey presented a 25-year Faithful Service Award to Golf Course Superintendent John Niehardt. Harvey also presented a plaque to John Day and the Jekyll Island Water Department for being voted the best water utility in its category for 2008 by the Georgia Association of Water Professionals.
In the absence of Chairman Steve Croy, Chairman Krueger thanked the State Legislature for providing $50 million in general-obligation bond funding to support the redevelopment projects in the Park.
Chairman Porter called upon Marketing Director Eric Garvey. Garvey recognized Park resident Nancy Reed for her volunteer work in putting together the new Easter Egg Stroll that was such a successful recent event. Reed thanked all of the Park residents who assisted her, and pledged to produce the event again next year.
Garvey reported that a new event had just been held, the Mother Nature Festival. A great crowd of about 1,000 attended, and the weather was ideal. The goal was to align the Park’s marketing with the eco-conscious consumer and reinforce the Park’s position as a green destination. Garvey discussed the problems encountered in the hosting of the Ultimate frisbee tournaments (some noisy partying and rowdiness, and packing of cottage rentals). In the future, this group will be strongly encouraged to use hotels rather than cottages, to maximize revenue to the Park. Attempts will be made to limit disturbance to the Park’s core guests.
Garvey observed that the Park’s hotels are experiencing a decrease in length of stay for guests. To combat this, the Marketing Department is focusing its advertising on nearby markets (e.g., Hinesville and Macon), and working with the hotels to offer value-based packages.
Garvey announced that Radio Disney will help host an opening day event at Summer Waves that will include chances to win tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert.
PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE
Director Hooks summarized highlights of the contract with HHCP, the architectural-engineering firm that is planning the public portions of Linger Longer Jekyll’s Beach Village, including the remodeling of the Convention Center. The predesign fee is $220,891 (1,472 hours of predesign work; completion within the next 90 days). Authority staff had a very encouraging 2-day charrette with HHCP last week.
Mindy Egan inquired about the fact that the Morgan Tennis Center and Gould were potentially involved in planning for the new Convention Center? Answer: for already-booked conventions that would be coming during remodeling, adaptive reuse of Historic District buildings is being considered. HHCP is looking at this possibility, and at making such reuse perhaps last farther into the future also. Egan asked whether the new bond money could be used for this reusage adaptation? Answer: yes.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chairman Krueger announced that resurfacing of the Park’s Airport runways is being arranged. Federal funds ($250,000) will be utilized for this work, with cost to the Park Authority of $2,500. Director Hooks gave credit for bringing this opportunity to his attention to Senior Facilities Director Ronny Smith.
Director Hooks summarized the first reading of the new Pet Ordinance for Jekyll Island State Park. The first reading will consist of a posting of the draft ordinance on the Park Authority website http://www.jekyllislandauthority.org/Ordinances/PetOrdinanceDraft.pdf Hooks explained that Conservation Manager Christa Frangiamore had been working with several groups (including Suzie’s Friends) to find ways to remove feral cats from the Park. Authority staff, including Sea Turtle Center Director Terry Norton, has met several times to discuss options for inclusion in the new ordinance. Frangiamore thanked the Board for considering the new ordinance. She invited audience members to visit her office to discuss enhancing the draft ordinance. Ben Porter asked Frangiamore to expand on the cat-removal plans – he remarked that feral cats are a big problem on an island known for its birding opportunities. Frangiamore noted that her consultants have arrived at a concensus opinion that the goal should be to remove the feral cats in a humane and sensible way. She pointed out the the new ordinance is not specifically aimed at cats, but is intended to encourage respectful pet ownership to protect the Park’s wildlife. She expressed gratitude to Suzie’s Friends, DNR staffers, folks at the Sea Turtle Center, and island-resident reviewers for assistance in drafting the new ordinance. She felt that the fact that the Park is a small island may allow full removal of feral cats. Porter commended the goal, but wanted to hear a plan. Hooks noted that the current plan under way by Suzie’s Friends has reduced the size of the feral-cat population in the Park, and the new ordinance is designed to increase the rate at which this population is reduced.
Director Hooks reminded the Board that he now has a growing number of Park residents working not only on developing new events for tourists, such as Nancy Reed’s planning of the Easter Egg Stroll, but also on committees studying the traditional activities of the Park Authority.
Director Hooks reported that his office had sent out notices of fire-fee billings to Park residents. Fire fees have remained level or decreased. He has also sent out to residents requests for verification of ownership identities and addresses, to be used in the process of recording 10-year lease renewals. The verification forms must be returned by 15 May 2009.
Hooks reported that he and Landscape Superintendent Cliff Gawron have been working on improving the appearance of the Jekyll Causeway. They have carefully removed some large dead limbs and trees (by hand; no large machinery). They are also working with Sea Turtle Center staff to make some changes to the Causeway to help protect nesting diamondback terrapins. Twelve areas have been identified as likely emergence points for terrapins, and nesting mounds with nesting boxes will be placed at these sites. Since the DOT will no longer be seeding wildflowers, they have recommended use of appropriate herbicides to control weeds, and planting of Bermuda grass. A few more marsh-vista clearings will be cut by hand, but no wholesale destruction of natural brush and trees will be performed. Gawron commented that Park visitors have become increasingly aware of the importance of the natural vegetation along the Causeway to terrapins and to migrating birds. They realize that dramatic changes to the vegetation would negatively impact the ecology of that area. Ben Porter felt that it would be a shame to lose the very attractive flower stands; he suggested that the Authority plant perennial wildflowers to replace the annual wildflower mix that DOT had previously seeded. Gawron felt that this might be done most effectively in selected spots, rather than all along the Causeway.
Chairman Krueger announced that he and Director Hooks had met with the leaders of the Park’s 4H units, and with DNR officials, to discuss expansion of the buildings and activities at Tidelands Nature Center. This was part of the Chairman’s Advisory Forum. Feedback is expected from the members of the discussion by the end of April, and it is hoped that additional eco-educational activities will be devised for Park visitors.
John Allison of Suzie’s Friends remarked that the high birthrate of animals such as cats make their control very difficult. He noted that his animal shelter in Homerville is the one used as a model for the Department of Agriculture when assistance is sought by folks that want to open humane shelters. When he moved to Jekyll Island State Park, he and his wife took it upon themselves to begin working to control the feral-cat problem. Over the first two years in the Park, the Allisons spent some $80,000 of their own money in their neutering program. They reduced the number of feral cats from 300-400 down to 80-100 (of these still present, 50-60 have been neutered). Allison’s opinion was that reduction to zero will never be accomplished; visitors will continue to accidentally leave pet cats (evidence: a surprising number of formerly feral cats adopted out of the Suzie’s Friend’s facilities have been purebreds). Allison expressed dismay at the fact that most folks do not realize that 90% of cats left at most public animal shelters are euthanized. Allison’s opinion was that it would be better, for example, to have five neutered and vaccinated cats at Villas by the Sea, than to remove those cats and have them be replaced by five unhealthy, sexually active cats. Allison thanked Frangiamore and Hooks for working with him to make the feral-cat-removal methods humane, and Chairman Krueger thanked the Allisons for their generous contributions to solving the Park’s feral-cat problems.
Onnalee Willnow requested of Suzie’s Friends (in whose neighborhood she lives) that they not permit feral cats to roam in her neighborhood, because she believes that birds at her feeder are being killed by these cats. Chairman Krueger suggested to Willnow that she take the matter up with Suzie’s Friends.
Dory Ingram inquired about documents that were in the Board’s handout packages. These were letters regarding the removal of the Aquarama swimming pool, which was formerly located on the south side of the Convention Center. The letters indicated that the Park Authority has been granted retroactive federal approval for the removal of the pool, which was funded by Land & Water Conservation Fund monies; fund recipients are obligated to obtain federal permission to change the nature of the funded projects. Director Hooks replied that the Authority had applied for retroactive permission for the 1995 removal of an obsolete facility, and its replacement by a passive park. The Department of the Interior did approve the request. Ingram was concerned that the Park Authority did not seek the required permission when they demolished the public swimming pool and replaced it with an empty lot. Ingram had evidence in the form of two notification letters that the Park Authority knew in 1992 that they had an obligation to maintain the quality of the funded facility, and needed federal permission for the demolition, a requirement that was ignored. Ingram argued, based on statistics that she cited, that replacement of a swimming pool by a passive park was not an equal exchange of value to the public. Ingram pointed out that the Georgia SCORP (Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan) currently strongly favors public-activity infrastructure that encourages active recreation; in view of this fact, she asked what the Authority would provide to replace the pool that would serve the public better than a passive park? Answer: thank you for your question; we’ll take it under advisement.
Pat Overholt remarked that the public swimming pools formerly alongside the Convention Center were very valuable to Park residents and visitors. She felt that the grassy lot that replaced the pool is of little value (no benches, no picnic tables). It was Overholt’s opinion that a public swimming pool should definitely have been kept in the Park. She noted that it is expensive to join the pool at the Club Hotel for daily swimming exercise. Chairman Krueger responded that if demand justifies it, the public/private group will look into providing a public swimming pool. Mindy Egan remarked that large groups of kids often had lots of fun using the affordable former pool at the Convention Center, something that they cannot now do.
Richard Van Iderstyne thanked the Board for allowing Redbug Motors to use the present Great Dunes clubhouse for his new pizza pub. He stated that he hopes to make the area better for the public than it is now. He felt that his partner, Clayton Porter, would use his artistic talents to make the building’s interior very attractive. He promised that any negative or disruptive aspects of the change to a pub would be quickly remedied. Van Iderstyne also recommended that the many little directional signs at the Causeway entrance be minimized.
Astria Lackey lamented the mess (beer bottles, etc.) that was left in the Park after a recent weekend. She took the trouble to remove recyclables from the mess ,within and outside of trash receptacles, and put them in her truck, which was quickly filled, to take to the Recycling Park. She asked what can be done to reduce littering and enhance recycling of refuse? Answer: that was a particularly bad weekend for littering and receptacle filling (it was a high-school-prom weekend, along with a wedding or two). Senior Facilities Director Ronny Smith noted that he had been called about the problem on Sunday, but the Authority only has one person working on Sundays on trash removal. He also observed that the Authority cannot afford to sort the material in the trash receptacles – that material goes to the garbage pickup by Waste Management. It is the responsibility of Waste Management personnel to sort garbage into recyclables and trash.
Gloria Zocchi thought that the pizza-pub idea was great, but wondered what the golfers would be doing about clubhouse facilities and bathrooms? Answer: an octagon-shaped clubhouse will be constructed between holes #1 and #9. The current restrooms on the back side of the building that will house the pizza-pub, facing the minigolf, will be retained.
In view of Director Hooks’ very positive comments about the volunteerism of Park residents, Tise Eyler reminded the Board that a consultant working for the Authority had written in 2004 that Park residents take from the Authority and give nothing back. Eyler felt that this inaccurate statement had laid the groundwork for increasing the residents’ lease fees out of sight. Eyler asked the Board to recognize that consultants from central Georgia do not truly know the way that the Park functions and the importance of its residents to its functioning. These consultants don’t know the past, and have a weird vision of the future.
Eyler also commented upon the safety situation at the west end of the Jekyll Causeway. The acceleration lane that was recently added for right turning onto Route 17 was a great help for the safety of vehicles merging after turning right. Now Eyler would like to see a change made to help traffic attempting to turn left off the Causeway, toward Route 95’s Exit 29. He called for installation of a caution light. Ultimately, in view of all of the new development occurring to the southwest, Eyler felt that a stoplight will be needed.
Chairman Krueger adjourned the meeting at 11:06 AM.