Development and Jekyll Island:
A Brief Chronological Outline
1. Jekyll Island was purchased by the State in 1947 for the benefit of “the plain people” of Georgia.
2. In 1950, the island became Jekyll Island State Park. Its founding legislation calls for “the operation of the public facilities of the park at rates so moderate that all of the ordinary citizens of the State may enjoy them.”
3. In 1950, the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) was established as the State agency responsible for the island’s operations and maintenance. It is a financially self-sustaining agency which functions under the direction of a Board of Directors that is appointed by the Governor.
4. In 1971, legislation established that “not more than 35% of the land area of Jekyll Island which lies above water at mean tide” can be developed. As of January 2009, approximately 55 acres within that 35% of the island’s land remains available for future development, according to the JIA. Properties already developed within the 35% zone may be redeveloped at the Authority’s discretion.
5. In 1996, the JIA issued its Master Plan for “the management, preservation, protection, and development of Jekyll Island.” The Master Plan emphasizes that Jekyll’s most attractive feature is “the accessibility it provides to an unspoiled microcosm of the coastal environment,” and that this unique asset is the one “upon which all future plans for the island’s viability should rest.” The Master Plan also viewed Jekyll’s accommodations, even 1996, as the “island’s weakest link,”
6. In 2004, the Authority updated the Master Plan, reaffirming the mandate that “Jekyll Island be affordable and available to all Georgians,” and identifying opportunities for possible development or redevelopment of existing properties within the 35% development constraint. The 2004 update’s recommendations included a 24-acre Jekyll town center consisting of a new convention center, a convention hotel, a renovated retail complex, and a modest number of condominiums.
7. The 2004 Master Plan Update also raised the possibility of a public-private partnership to promote Jekyll’s redevelopment. The Master Plan recommended that the JIA’s role in this partnership would be to “contribute land with a reduced land lease or infrastructure costs to facilitate redevelopment. The development projects, including a Jekyll town center, that were recommended at that time “will not require any capital outlays from the JIA other than, in some instances, performance based or abated land lease payments,” according to the Master Plan.
8. In December of 2006, the JIA signed a contract with Jekyll Ocean Oaks (the group that redeveloped the Jekyll Island Club Hotel) to build a new hotel on the site of the former Holiday Inn. The contract, which cut in half the rent to be paid to the JIA over the first three years of the new hotel’s operation, was supposed to serve as a model for all future contracts with Jekyll’s hotel developers, according to former JIA board chairman Richard Wood, who helped to negotiate the agreement.
9. In March of 2007, the JIA hired a consultant to “define the potential for private sector participation” in the further development of JI; to draft a Request for Proposals (RFP) from developers; and to assist in the selection of a private sector partner to work with the JIA to revitalize Jekyll Island State Park. The JIA said it would follow a very open process in drafting the RFP and would seek and be attentive to public input. On 9 April 2007, the JIA held its sole public session for RFP input. The meeting was held on Jekyll Island, unpublicized statewide, and was attended primarily by Jekyll residents.
10. On 30 May, House Bill 214 was enacted in response to the JIA’s apparent interest in building estate homes and condos on the site of Jekyll’s soccer complex and 4-H Center. HB 214 protects Jekyll’s south end from further development, and created a House-Senate Legislative Oversight Committee—to be appointed by Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor—to monitor Jekyll’s revitalization. To date, the committee has rubber-stamped the JIA’s development plans for Jekyll.
11. On 1 June 2007, the Authority issued its RFP. The document outlined the scope of a proposed 45-acre town center (twice the size of the town center recommended in the 2004 Master Plan); invited developers to submit town center proposals; and listed development and redevelopment options that may be available for its selected private sector partner over the long term.
The RFP was issued despite the fact that the economic feasibility analysis that state agencies are required to conduct for development projects costing more than $1 million was not performed by the JIA.
12. On 18 June of 2007, the JIA signed a contract with Trammell Crow and Partners to build a new hotel and a condo complex on the site of the former Buccaneer Resort. The contract included terms radically different than those in what was supposed to be the model agreement signed with Jekyll Ocean Oaks in December of 2006. Trammell Crow received a ten-year rent reduction, a ten-year exemption from paying the JIA a percentage of gross receipts for food and beverage sales, and a permanent 25 percent reduction in the percentage of hotel room gross receipts to be paid to the JIA. The Trammell Crow deal was widely criticized by the public and drew considerable media attention as a giveaway of publicly-generated revenue to a billionaire developer.
13. On 24 September 2007, the JIA announced the selection of Linger Longer Communities as its private partner. Linger Longer, which is owned by the politically-connected Reynolds family, proposed a Jekyll town center spanning a 63-acre site running from the Days Inn through the current site of Blackbeard’s restaurant and extending westward into part of Jekyll’s maritime forest. The proposed town center included 277 condominiums, 160 time-share units, a retail center, three hotels, a new convention center, and a public park. The four current oceanfront parking lots would provide some of the acreage for the town center. Curbside parking was to be provided for those wanting to spend some time at the beach but not staying within the town center.
14. Jekyll’s visitors by thousands objected to Linger Longer’s town center proposal, arguing that the commercialization of Jekyll’s most popular public beach would not be in the best interests of the park and is not necessary for Jekyll’s revitalization. Concerns over affordability and environmental effects also contributed to the opposition to the proposed town center.
15. The JIA equated criticism of the town center proposal with opposition to Jekyll’s revitalization. Having dismissed public outcry—including the more than 10,000 supporters of the IPJI—as a tiny group of “island residents” opposed to all change, the JIA and Linger Longer, in effect, forced those who envision a future for Jekyll different than the official line to seek other avenues to address their concerns, including the media, protective legislation and legal action.
16. In response to public concern over Linger Longer’s town center proposal, Jekyll legislation was introduced in both Senate and the House during the February-April period of the 2008 Georgia General Assembly session. The legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Chapman (R – Brunswick) in the Senate and Rep. Debbie Buckner (D – Junction City) in the House, was primarily designed to keep Jekyll’s landmark beach unobstructed and directly accessible to the general public, and to ensure that the park’s facilities remain affordable for people of average income. Republican Party leaders succeeded in preventing this legislation from reaching the floor for a full vote.
17. In the midst of the efforts at the Capitol to pass protective Jekyll legislation, the JIA’s Board Chairman Ben Porter sent a letter to General Assembly members, stating that “the Georgia General Assembly should not allow a small group of Jekyll residents and some in the environmental lobby to affect policy to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of Georgians who want to see Jekyll Island returned to its heyday.” This statement was made despite the fact that Mr. Porter and his fellow board members had been made aware repeatedly, and in writing, that opposition to the town center project is not a “Jekyll resident issue” but extends across the state and beyond.
18. Intense public support for the “open beach” legislation cited above, along with the threat of legal action related to the Shore Protection Act, led to an April 2nd JIA announcement stating that Linger Longer’s conceptual plan to build condos, time-shares and hotels within the beachfront area between the convention center and Blackbeard’s restaurant would be revised. Instead, that area would be set aside as a public park, with additional landscaping and some public beach parking.
19. On 15 May 2008, the Georgia Shore Protection Committee (SPC) ruled that the Trammell Crow Group, the developer of the Canopy Bluff Resort on the site of the demolished Buccaneer Hotel, would be required to avoid any light pollution of the beach in front of the new hotel, so that critical nesting habitat of endangered loggerhead turtles would not be degraded. Included in the written commentary was a modernized beach-lighting ordinance that had been proposed to the JIA on 10 March 2008 by Jekyll resident and IPJI executive officer Steve Newell.
20. On 15 July 2008, the JIA announced its intentions to set greater restrictions on lights near its natural beaches in order to protect sea turtles from the adverse effects of artificial light. The new ordinance is modeled after the one worked out by the Shore Protection Committee for the Canopy Bluff Resort.
21. July 2008 also witnessed ground-breaking for the first new hotel on Jekyll in over thirty years. The new hotel, a Hampton Inn and Suites, will have 138 rooms and an average daily rate of $135. The builders of the new hotel, the Jekyll Ocean Oaks Group, plan to add an 88-room boutique hotel (room rates of about $190 per night) and 60 condominiums on the property.
22. On 15 September 2008, the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) revealed its preliminary “Analysis of Long-Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island,” a study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG). BAG’s report marks a milestone in the history of the Jekyll development issue, as it offers a forecast of where BAG believes the JIA must head if it is to acquire the financial resources to maintain, operate and further develop Jekyll Island State Park and to boost visitation to record levels.
Among the report’s conclusions are: a) visitation to Jekyll Island and utilization of the park’s amenities has declined by 15 to 25 percent over the past 20 years; b) Jekyll Island will need to attract an additional 1.2 million visitors per year to raise sufficient income to fund operations and capital improvement projects; c) the JIA must increase the number of Jekyll’s accommodations from the current 1,625 units to 3,700 to support increased visitation and provide income for various projects; and d) the increase in accommodations is expected to boost the island’s peak season population from the current figure of 7,800 to 15,000, and increase the JIA’s annual operating revenues from its current level of $18 million to $48 million by the year 2023. BAG’s methodology and forecasts have been questioned by public land planning authority, Dr. Ken Cordell, whose critique can be found on IPJI’s website, and have been the subject of a critique by State Senator Jeff Chapman, which can also be found on our website.
23. On 22 September 2008, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced that Senator Ed Boshears would be dismissed from his position on the JIA board of directors. Sen. Boshears had repeatedly stood up for the principles that Jekyll Island State Park was founded upon, and had urged the board’s leadership to honor those principles in their efforts to redevelop the park. Gov. Perdue’s decision came at time when the JIA was in the final stages of its contract negotiations for its long-term partnership with Linger Longer, and just prior to when Linger Longer’s revised proposal for the controversial Jekyll town center project was to be released. Sen. Boshears, following his dismissal from the board, sent a vibrant letter to the press criticizing the board’s leadership and Gov. Perdue for mishandling Jekyll’s revitalization.
24. On 6 October 2008, Linger Longer released its revised town center plan. The plan, which is close to what the IPJI has been suggesting from as far back as January 2008, reduced the project from 63 acres to 22 acres, cut the number of hotels from three to two (abandoning the proposed upscale 400-room hotel), and eliminated the 277-unit condo units that had been planned for the town center.
The revised plan includes a 160-unit time-share building, a renovated and expanded convention center, and a relocated retail center along with a small public square. Beachview Drive is not being rerouted as planned, but rather will intersect with Jekyll's entrance parkway in a Y shaped fashion, without any loss of the current view of the ocean. No development will take place north of the convention center - the children's playground and miniature golf course will stay where they are. The parking areas north of the convention center may be reconfigured and rehabilitated at the JIA’s expense.
The revised plan has been widely viewed as both a concession to public opinion and a consequence of the economic slowdown in the real estate market. Linger Longer’s concern over a legal challenge over building within the jurisdictional area of the Shore Protection Act also may have influenced the plan’s revision.
25. On 26 November 2008, the JIA announced that the Georgia Coast Inn property (formerly the Ramada Inn) will be redeveloped by New South Partners, LLC. The property will now house 28 condominiums (called “cottages), selling for $990,000 each, and a 110-room hotel, with opening average daily room rate of $200. The “Cottages and Inn at Georgia Coast” is the fourth hotel redevelopment project that has been approved by the JIA over the past two years. Two additional new hotels have been approved as part of the Jekyll town center project, which is scheduled to break ground in 2009.
26. On 1 December 2008, the JIA board approved a 25-year private-public partnership agreement between Linger Longer. The contract, which arguably is the most important agreement in the history of the Jekyll Island State Park, was approved at a special session of the JIA board without public review and without any opportunity for public comment.
The Agreement allows Linger Longer to build a 160-unit time-share complex and two hotels in a Jekyll town center, and it gives Linger Longer the right to make partnering proposals for park operations, lease management, redevelopment of developed areas (such as Jekyll’s golf course complex), and development of whatever undeveloped acres might remain within the 35 percent of the island’s “development zone.”
The financial terms of the contract have drawn criticism for favoring the private partner at the expense of the public. Of special concern is the JIA’s decision to settle for just 1 percent of the $163 million in estimated gross sales for Linger Longer’s time-share project, which will be built on 5.5 acres of state-owned, oceanfront land. Linger Longer’s investment in the project is listed as $37.6 million, which indicates that LLJ will be making an immense profit, while the JIA receives just $1.63 million. Separate from its percent cut in gross sales for the time-shares themselves, the JIA will receive $400,000 in annual land lease payments from the members of the public who purchase Linger Longer’s the time-share units.
27. On 16 December 2008, the Jekyll Island Authority Legislative Oversight Committee convened in Atlanta to receive an update from the JIA on Jekyll’s redevelopment and the Revitalization Partnering Agreement signed on December 1st between the Authority and Linger Longer. JIA board members presented the Agreement as remarkably good deal for the Authority, given the economic slowdown and the soft market for coastal development projects.
State Senator Jeff Chapman spoke toward the end of the meeting, describing why he feels the Agreement is “a bad deal for the people of Georgia.” He also made the JIA aware of a research study being done at the University of Georgia that is using advanced technology to calculate the land area of Jekyll Island and the ratio of developed and undeveloped land on the island. Pointing out that the study suggests that Jekyll may have reached the 35 percent development threshold, he reminded the Authority of the need to ensure that 65 percent of Jekyll Island remains undeveloped, as required by law, and recommended that the JIA table any plans that would affect currently undeveloped land on Jekyll until the results of the new study can be analyzed.
28. On 5 February 2009, the JIA held a forum on Jekyll’s future, inviting what it describes as representatives of the major stakeholders to attend the meeting. As expected, business and development interests are heavily represented at the meeting, although the co-presidents of the Jekyll Island Citizens Organization were invited to attend as was a representative from an environmental group. The meeting is closed to the public. The IPJI, which has received input regarding Jekyll’s redevelopment from more than 10,000 of the Park’s visitors, was not invited on the grounds that the JIA board wanted to avoid controversy at the forum.
29. On February 9, 2009, the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG) released its analysis of how the built-up Jekyll Island of the future would compare to current conditions at nine southeastern coastal resorts. Examining resident and seasonal population, housing density, rental lodgings, and traffic volumes, BAG claimed that by the year 2023, when Jekyll’s build out is complete, density levels per acre for Jekyll Island would be low to moderate relative to the nine coastal resorts that BAG said are comparable to Jekyll, the nine being St. Simons Island, Tybee Island, Pawley’s Island, Captiva/Sanibel Island, Kiawah Island, Ocean Isle Beach, Santa Rosa Island/Pensacola Beach, Fripp Island, and St. George Island. In calculating Jekyll’s land area, BAG chose to use an acreage figure provided by the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau Report which included, as part of “Jekyll Island,” more than 5,000 acres of marshland on Jekyll’s west side and along the six-mile long Jekyll Causeway. By more than doubling Jekyll’s true size, and by discounting Georgia law which prohibits development on 65 percent of the island, BAG came up with a Jekyll Island of more than 9,200 acres and per acre density figures that bear no resemblance to reality.
30. On July 14, 2009, Helman, Hurley, Charvat & Peacock Architects (HHCP), consultants to the JIA, released a preliminary design for the public components of the Jekyll town center. The HHCP design includes a new entry road for the island that will funnel through a pair of roundabouts ending at a third overlooking 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 rest rooms, picnic facilities, a beachfront promenade, and dune crossovers. To the south will be two hotels and a 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 2009 and to be completed in 2012.
31. On September 14, 2009, the JIA announced that it will renew its efforts to draw up a conservation plan for Jekyll Island and will involve various stakeholders in its conception. A Jekyll Island conservation plan, which was supposed to guide development decisions, had been drawn up in 2007 but was mothballed for nearly two years while the JIA proceeded with its revitalization effort. IPJI, in urging the Authority to complete a conservation plan before making development decisions that might impact the island, had placed a ticker tape on its website tracking how many days have passed since the Authority last moved forward on the policy. The ticker tape stopped at 671 days.
32. On October 15, 2009, IPJI released records showing that a month prior to selecting Linger Longer as its private partner, the JIA had rejected the financial terms of Linger Longer’s partnering proposal, stating that, “The financial return to the Jekyll Island Authority as presented in your proposal does not seem at all commensurate with the level of upfront public investment required and the long range financial benefit to Linger Longer from the development. We could not recommend the financial return to Jekyll Island Authority’s Board as sound financial stewardship for the future of Jekyll Island.”
Linger Longer then responded by sweetening its offer and was later selected as the Authority’s private partner, in part, due to the strength of its financial proposal, but when the partnership agreement was reached on December 1, 2008, the terms, for reasons unknown, reverted back to the ones previously rejected or otherwise became more favorable for Linger Longer.
33. On October 23, 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a guest editorial by IPJI’s board chairperson Babs McDonald criticizing the financial terms of the JIA-Linger Longer Revitalization Partnering Agreement and calling into question the JIA board’s effectiveness as Park stewards. Titled “Jekyll Giveaway Robs Our State Jewel,” McDonald’s editorial prompted a flood of letters to the AJC by citizens outraged over a development deal that appeared to be much to the disadvantage JI State Park.
34. On November 9, 2009, State Senator Jeff Chapman sent a letter to the JIA board urging the Authority to take advantage of any contractual opportunities that would allow for the cancellation of the Revitalization Partnering Agreement (RPA) between the JIA and Linger Longer Communities on the grounds that the RPA includes terms that are inconsistent with sound financial stewardship for Jekyll Island State Park.
35. On November 24, 2009, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a guest editorial by Senator Jeff Chapman calling for the termination of the JIA’s pact with Linger Longer Communities.
36. On December 7, 2009, the JIA broke ground on the construction of Great Dunes Park, a public beachside amenity located just north of Jekyll’s convention center. Governor Sonny Perdue and other dignitaries were in attendance. The loudest round of applause came for State Senator Jeff Chapman, who led the fight to prevent Linger Longer’s commercialization of the beachfront that will now be home to Jekyll’s new public park.
37. On December 8, 2009, the JIA announced that it was terminating its partnership with Linger Longer. The official reason given for this decision was that LL was unable to adhere to the town center’s construction schedule, as specified in the RPA.
38. On December 19, 2009, the Savannah Morning News published a letter by JIA board chairman Robert Krueger in which he explained why the Linger Longer deal collapsed and vowed to complete the Jekyll town center project in 2012. Chairman Krueger’s letter included a shot at the JIA’s critics, stating that “I liken them to armchair quarterbacks yelling at the television suggesting they could make better play calls than the professionals on the field. They yell and scream, then ask to pass the chips. Those of us committed to making positive change must tighten our chin straps and work towards the goal of revitalization.” The “play calls” that the JIA’s critics questioned include the concept of further commercialization of Jekyll’s south end; the mega-town center plan put forward by developer Linger Longer Communities; and the public-private partnership between the JIA and Linger Longer. All 3 of these initiatives launched by the JIA board “professionals” referred to by Chairman Krueger proved to be unworkable and have now been abandoned.
39. On January 8, 2010, Jekyll’s Hampton Inn & Suites - the replacement hotel for the Holiday Inn - opened its doors to the public. The island’s first new hotel since 1974, the Hampton Inn Suites is a 4-story, 138-room facility situated on 14 acres of beachfront and maritime forest. With mid-priced rooms, suites and a host of guest amenities, the new hotel aims to fill a gap in Jekyll’s lodging inventory.
40. On January 20/21, 2009, the JIA hosted some 60 developers, hoteliers and building contractors in an effort to jump-start the private/commercial components of the stalled town center project. The focus was on finding a developer that can build a minimum 300-room full-service hotel by March of 2012, when Jekyll’s new convention center is scheduled to open. The JIA said it is also seeking a developer or developers to build an additional hotel or two in the town center along with retail shops and loft condos. Nothing was said about the controversial timeshare project that had been part of the town center plan. A formal Request for Proposals (RFP) from interested developers will be issued on February 12, 2009.
41. On March 27, 2010, the JIA announced that it has hired AECOM, an Orlando-based planning and engineering firm, to function as a consultant to Jekyll Island's conservation committee, which was formed in October to finish the park's long-awaited conservation plan. The Authority pledged to give the public ample opportunity to provide input to the conservation plan committee, which is projected to complete its work in January 2011.
42. On May 18, 2010, the JIA selected three contractors on Monday to build hotels, stores and loft apartments off Jekyll's main beach as part of its town center revitalization project.
The owners of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel were selected to build a 200-room, full-service convention center hotel, with a projected average daily room rate of $170. Phelps Development of Greeley, Colorado, will build a 140-room upscale, limited-service hotel, and Winding Road Development Company of Scottsdale, Arizona, will develop 40,000 square feet of retail stores and 60 loft condominiums, with an average price of $434,000.
A third hotel, or perhaps another type of lodging facility, is planned for the southern part of the new town center, adjacent to the Days Inn.
43. On June 30, 2010, the Jekyll Island Authority issued a Request for Information (RFI) regarding the revision of the Jekyll Island Master Plan, which is the island’s governing document and the source of official policy. Chief among the issues that the Authority said would be addressed as part of the Master Plan update is the question of land delineation and land definition as specifically related to the statutory requirement that no more than 35% of Jekyll Island can be developed. In response to the RFI, the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island drafted 18 recommendations for revision of the Jekyll Island Master Plan. Nearly 1,400 Jekyll visitors—representing a total of 138 towns/cities in Georgia, 35 states and 5 countries—co-signed IPJI’s recommendations, giving the Authority a comprehensive, widely-endorsed prescription for updating Jekyll’s Master Plan.
44. September 20, 2010, marked the opening of Great Dunes Park, which is an 8-acre public facility situated between Jekyll’s convention center and Blackbeard’s restaurant. Initially, hundreds of condos and timeshares were planned for the site where the new park now sits, but, due to statewide public protest, legislative efforts by the district’s State Senator, Jeff Chapman, and complications arising from the mega-town center project's collision with Georgia's Shore Protection Act, the JIA was compelled to scale back the town center project to a level more consistent with Jekyll's purpose and character as a state park.
Born from that decision was Great Dunes Park, which is widely regarded as a fine addition to Jekyll's public amenities and a monument to the power of civic action in service of a just cause.