March 21, 2009

Over the past three years, my work to secure responsible redevelopment for Jekyll Island State Park and a fair deal for Georgia taxpayers has been repeatedly misrepresented to seem as if I oppose the rebuilding of Jekyll. That characterization simply is not true. In brief, my work regarding the State Park has always addressed the following concerns:

(1) Encouraging transparency, accountability and public input in the decision-making process.

(2) Protecting the legally mandated public purpose of Jekyll Island State Park, such as maintaining              convenient beach access and affordability for ordinary folks, ensuring that the park remain family-friendly, and guaranteeing that development does not exceed its statutory limit of 35 percent  of the Park’s land area.

3) Preventing corporate profiteering at the expense of the public financial interest.

Recently, Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce executive director Mr. Woodie Woodside issued a call to action letter that grossly misrepresented my position on Jekyll’s rebuilding. In an effort to determine why Mr. Woodside issued such an inaccurate and inflammatory letter, I invited him to discuss this matter with me in a live media question and answer session. He did not respond. I extended the same local invitation to the Executive Director of the Jekyll Island Authority, Jones Hooks. He declined. 

It is unfortunate that the leadership of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union, having received Mr. Woodside’s misinformation, went forward with a petition suggesting that I am insensitive to the immediate job needs of locally-unemployed workers. As I have tried to make clear, the truth is that the unbalanced partnership deal with Linger Longer minimizes the job opportunities that could be ours over the long-term, and shortchanges our Third District as well as the taxpayers of Georgia. 

A fiscally responsible deal would not include $50 million in State bond-indebtedness to help pay for a private development project. It would not require the payment of a $1.3 million bonus to Linger Longer, particularly at a time when the JIA has just fired 38 park employees as a cost saving measure. It would not provide Linger Longer with a ten-year, multi-million dollar rent reduction in its hotel lease fee. It would not allow Linger Longer to get away with sharing 50 percent less of its timeshare condo profits than any other Jekyll developer.  Lastly, it would not give Linger Longer a monopoly on Jekyll development projects for the next 25 years.

What would a fair deal look like?  An economic analysis of the current JIA arrangement, conducted by Dr. John Loomis, a recognized authority on public land use decision-making and an author of several books on the topic,  suggested that the State Park’s location on ocean front property accounts for 26 percent of the price for Linger Longer’s timeshare condo units, at a bare minimum. Since the JIA is authorizing private beachfront condo units, the least it should do is demand 26 percent of the sales price be returned to the Authority for the State Park’s benefit. Since Linger Longer expects to earn well in excess of a 200 percent profit on roughly $160 million timeshare sales, at least a quarter of those sales, or $40 million, belongs to the JIA—the public partner—not the minimal one percent ($1.6 million), which is the current financial arrangement. Just imagine how many additional long-term park jobs and opportunities for local contractors could be created if that $40 million went to the JIA for maintenance, refurbishment and enhancement of Jekyll Island State Park instead of into the pockets of a private company.  

Temporary construction jobs are certainly part of the Jekyll development picture, but if the State renegotiated a better deal with Linger Longer and truly obtained a fair share of the profits, the JIA itself would be able to fund additional full-time jobs for park operations and improvements as well as provide contract employment for years to come. Furthermore, the JIA should insist that jobs generated by the Linger Longer project will go to local labor. The current partnership agreement includes no such requirement.

Responsible rebuilding of Jekyll Island State Park is an absolute necessity. However, this task cannot be accomplished by giving away public land for unfair private profit in return for only a penny on the dollar. Common sense tells us that a good deal is when both parties are treated fairly; this is not happening in Jekyll’s case.  Plain and simple, the JIA-Linger Longer contract should be renegotiated for the benefit of the hard-working people of Georgia. 

Jeff Chapman  

A Letter from Senator Jeff Chapman
This is an open letter from Senator Jeff Chapman to the people of District 3 and the citizens of Georgia printed in The Brunswick News on March 21, 2009