Record of the Jekyll Island State Park Authority (JISPA) Board Meeting of 14 July 2008, in the DuBignon Room of the Club Hotel,
as recorded by Steven Y. Newell,
Secretary, Jekyll Island Citizens Association
(Note: IPJI has placed some text in “bold” type for emphasis)
Chairman Porter brought the meeting to order at 9:55 AM, explaining that U.S. Congressman Jack Kingston had stopped by and the Board had spent some time visiting with him. Board members present were Ed Boshears, Buddy DeLoach, Mike Hodges, Bob Krueger, and Sybil Lynn. Park Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks was also present, and Becky Kelley and Counsel George Zier were on the conference telephone line. The audience numbered about 50 persons.
Chairman Porter announced that two major events would take place at the meeting. 1) A new beach-lighting ordinance would have its first reading, in preparation for adoption at the next (August) Board meeting. This new ordinance would be the most modern in effect along the coast of Georgia, and would maximize potential use of critical nesting habitat by loggerhead turtles in Jekyll Island State Park. 2) For the first time in 30 years, the groundbreaking for a brand new hotel would be announced.
CONSERVATION AND PRESERVATION COMMITTEE
Chairman Hodges reported that no action items were on the table for this meeting, and he called upon Museum Director John Hunter to provide an update on activities. Hunter discussed the cutting of firebreak buffers which have been created behind the campground, the Old Plantation residences and the north Beachview Drive residences. This project will be completed as of the weekend. As a consequence of the clearing activity, some new archeological sites have been exposed and are being studied. Hunter called for residents to report any new archeological artifacts that they might see in the cleared zone, but requested that the artifacts not be touched.
Hunter reported that the designing of the new Watchable Wildlife platform, to be constructed at the Welcome Center, is in progress. Also, the new guidebook for landscaping and coastal habitats (Urban Forestry grant) is partially completed, and the Audubon Certification project for Pine Lakes Golf Course is close to completion. About 325 people attended the recent history event at the Horton House, at which Hunter played the role of tavern keeper (but he served only root beer and ginger ale). Visitation at the Museum in June was one of the busiest Junes that the Museum has experienced.
Frank Mirasola noted that the condition of Faith Chapel has substantially deteriorated, probably to the great disappointment of visitors and those holding weddings in the Chapel. Hunter told the audience that his department has plans to remedy the Chapel’s condition. Mirasola reminded Hunter that when the Friends of Historic Jekyll Island paid for new cushions for the pews at the Chapel, it was agreed that the Authority would refinish the pews. Hunter stated that the pews do not need refinishing, but the Museum staff does continually work on the Chapel’s upkeep.
Frank Mirasola reported that visitors are breaking the rules regarding prohibition of use of metal detectors in historic sites, and at the beach. Reminders to visitors by residents do not always result in cessation of this violation. Chairman Porter asked about methods of enforcement. Hunter stated that his staff reminds violators, and will call the State Patrol if violators persist in their illegal activities. Porter called for stricter monitoring and enforcement.
Chairman Krueger reported that the budget is in line with expectations for this fiscal year, and that hotel occupancy is reflecting summer surge, with occupancy rates higher than they have been.
Krueger announced that his group has been working on the ground lease for the Canopy Bluff Hotel. Counsel Zier noted that all parts of the agreement based on the Project Development Agreement (PDA) have been settled, with the exception of the boundary-line description of the tract on which the hotel will stand. The main hotel and the condominium hotel will be separate, because they will have separate leasing agreements. The Authority and the developers have agreed on the tract descriptions, but are now waiting for survey results. Krueger asked whether it was time for a Board vote on the leasing agreements, and Zier stated that it was time to do so. Krueger asked whether the terms of the lease agreement were the same as those given in the PDA? Answer: Yes. The Finance Committee voted to approve the ground lease.
Pat Overholt wondered whether the reference to two tracts on the Canopy Bluff site was meant to include the vacant Georgia Coast Inn (GCI) site also? Answer: No; the two tracts mentioned are both on the old Buccaneer site. Overholt then asked about the status of the GCI site? Answer: The dispute over the GCI property is coming to a resolution. Ed Boshears asked for clarification of the status of the Georgia Coast Inn property? Answer: The legal dispute has been settled for an undisclosed sum of money, resulting in ownership of the site lying with the Patton Group. The Patton Group is now planning a condominium hotel for the site. Boshears noted that a sum of $8 million in the form of a security deed was registered in Glynn County. Zier responded that this was the sum of money that when transferred, resulted in Southeast Landco (the Reynolds group) stepping aside and allowing the property to fall to the Patton Group.
Lucien DeBacker referred to a graph of the hotel occupancy in the Park for 2007 and 2008, and stated his opinion that this was evidence that there has been no precipitous decline in hotel occupancy. Chairman Porter countered by explaining that the graph showed that 2008 multi-day passes were down 47% from 2007, along with some other much smaller declines and gains. DeBacker asked whether 2-3% declines should be considered precipitous? Porter reiterated that multi-day passes declined by 47% from 2007 to 2008. DeBacker pointed out that those figures seem to show that 2007 was a pretty good year. Buddy DeLoach declared that this topic was a dead horse.
Chairman Lynn stated that there were no action items for consideration, but that Park Human Resources Director Cornell Harvey had an announcement to make. Harvey reported that the Georgia Equal Opportunity Employment Commission would be coming to Jekyll to provide training to Authority managers in the coming week.
Chairman Porter (in Chairman Kellet’s absence) called upon Marketing Director Eric Garvey to provide a marketing update. Garvey reported that the big event for the month for the marketing group was the release of Dylan the loggerhead turtle by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and its coverage by major news agencies. There will be a follow-up piece by Good Morning America next month. Although there has been some softening of the transient travel business, June visitation has been strong, including a large group of soccer fans enjoying a tournament, and the Georgia Association of Educational Leaders at the Convention Center. Also, the marketing website saw its largest monthly traffic, with 280 unique visitors.
Ed Boshears inquired of Garvey whether he could prognosticate regarding impact of high gasoline prices on visitation to the State Park? Answer: Yes; reports are coming in from other vacation destinations that traditional family vacationing is down some 30%, and we are seeing a softening of the leisure travel market in our Park too. We will react by running promotions. Boshears wondered whether the Park’s Marketing Department should be studying what the other destinations are using as incentives to counteract the effects of the rising gas prices? Answer: Yes, we will be giving households a break on the cost of vacationing in the Park, in the form of special discount-package offerings. Boshears requested a report describing the discount packages. Garvey replied that at the hotel meeting in the coming week, he would be describing a promotion aimed at potential visitors within a 50-mile radius, different from the usual promotion aimed as far away as the Atlanta market. Chairman Porter added that the idea would be to promote vacationing at the beach near home to save travel expenses. Boshears commended Garvey on this promotion; he reminded the audience that the 70s energy crisis had had a devastating effect upon Glynn County.
Mindy Egan made the point that the Weather Channel’s Forecast Earth show (Saturday and Sunday the weekend of 14 June) had featured a piece on Jekyll Island State Park, including the fact that parts of the Park’s island are rapidly eroding due to natural forces and sea level rise. The show also presented several of the most attractive facets of the Park, giving the Park national publicity. Tise Eyler and Pat Overholt added that friends and relatives in VA, AK, and IL had called to tell them about the Forecast Earth show. Egan volunteered to provide the internet URL for the show’s Jekyll piece to the Board members.
Pat Overholt observed that Jekyll Island State Park is experiencing a large upward bounce in beach visitors and house rentals, relative to what she has seen in previous years. Mindy Egan pointed out that on a recent evening, there were 150 people enjoying the miniature golf facility. Director Hooks explained that this surge in visitation is the reason for the delay in putting the 50-mile-radius promotional incentives into effect. The promotions will be delayed until a fading is seen in the surge. At present, all facilities are being used, including the Convention Center (ergo, the meeting venue in the Club Hotel), but some of the convention groups have announced that they will not be using the Center next year, because of absence of needed facilities in the Park.
Chairman Porter announced that the Forsyth Living magazine (serving the north Georgia area of Cummings and Suwanee) currently has a great story about Jekyll Island.
PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP COMMITTEE
The Committee has met recently with Linger Longer Communities (LLC), but has not received the new proposal to replace the withdrawn Beach Village proposal. It is hoped (with no promises) that the new proposal will be brought forward at the August Board meeting. The Committee is looking very hard at the potential revenues that would spring from a revitalization plan that would include a new Convention Center (the first priority), the development of a new shopping/dining/entertainment center (second priority), the development of new hotels (third priority), and the expansion and improvement of the public areas in the Park, all of which are necessary ingredients to any revitalization program. The Committee is not presently satisfied with the projected revenue numbers. These revitalization revenues are needed to fund the improvement of the public areas including the Historic District. The revitalization is not simply a matter of throwing together some hotels and condominiums. The Committee is trying to speed up the process of producing satisfactory revenue projections.
Ed Boshears noted that there had been a recent story (13 July) in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution regarding the founding of a new company (MillionMile Greenway) by Jim Langford. In the story, it was stated that Langford would continue to act as a consultant to LLC’s planning for real-estate development in Jekyll Island State Park. Boshears asked whether Langford would still be the Project Manager for LLC in the Park? Answer: No; Langford was not Project Manager, and he has not changed his position as a consultant to LLC.
Ed Boshears inquired about the status of Authority consultant Ken Bleakley’s Park-capacity study? Boshears reminded the Board that he had been told at a previous Board meeting that he would be given an opportunity to publicly question Bleakley about his proposed methods to be used in the capacity study. Jim Broadwell replied that he has held one workshop with internal staff, and would hold another such workshop on the coming Thursday to do a similar examination of numbers. Then probably in August he will sit down with Board members to present accumulated information, prior to submitting the final product in September. Chairman Porter summarized by stating that the capacity study was progressing, and called for a move to another topic. Boshears persisted with the question of availability of Bleakley for public questioning regarding his methods? Jim Broadwell replied that the questioning could come at an internal meeting, to which Senator Boshears could be invited along with Chairman Porter and others. Boshears requested a promise that he be invited to that meeting. Broadwell responded that he doesn’t make decisions on meeting attendees; that job goes to Chairman Porter. Porter stated that he would be glad to inform all the Board members of the meeting, and called for a move to another topic. Mindy Egan spoke up and pointed out that the Bleakley contract included a statement that two weeks following the contract signing, there would be a preliminary report of visitation-summary figures. Jim Broadwell responded that the reporting referred to involves internal communications, such as he has organized at his workshops, not passing of information to the public. The public will get no information prior to the submission of the final Park-capacity report.
NEW BEACH-LIGHTING ORDINANCE
Project Manager Jim Broadwell announced that the non-game section of DNR, including loggerhead expert Mark Dodd, and the Turtle Center’s veterinarian Terry Norton, in conjunction with Park Authority staff, had been working on the new ordinance for quite a while. The group had wanted to wait until the Shore Protection Committee (SPC) had approved lighting conditions for the Canopy Bluff project before moving ahead with the adoption of the new ordinance. They used language from the SPC ruling on Canopy Bluff, and from Florida ordinances, and took input from Counsel Zier. Broadwell declared that he was quite happy with the document. He reported that he has already had requests for copies of the proposed new ordinance, including by Sea Island Company and Tybee Island. He was glad to see that the Park Authority was setting the standard for other beach areas, with regard to conservation of loggerhead turtles. Chairman Porter noted that this was another example of the Park Authority’s accomplishments in the direction of making the Park the greenest community on the east coast of the United States, and the most environmentally friendly. He called the new ordinance a state-of-the-art, precedent-setting, monumental step forward, which has drawn attention from other island communities desiring to copy this action. Broadwell stated his opinion that other coastal communities had been waiting for the Park Authority to make its anticipated move in loggerhead conservation. Counsel Zier described the necessary steps in the ordinance’s adoption: first reading (posting on the Authority website serves as the first reading), which is followed by potential adoption at the next (August) Board meeting.
Becky Kelley reported that she had contacted the heads of DNR’s Coastal Resources and Wildlife Resources divisions, and they were both very supportive of the adoption of the ordinance, and glad that their divisions were able to participate in its preparation. Chairman Porter added that DNR had been a strong partner in the process of drafting the ordinance, and he was very appreciative of their efforts.
Ed Boshears asked Conservation Manager Christa Frangiamore how she felt about the new ordinance? Answer: It is a fine document. Boshears inquired whether Frangiamore had participated in writing the ordinance? Answer: Not until the final-revision stage. Boshears asked Project Manager Jim Broadwell why Frangiamore had not been included in earlier stages of formulation of the new ordinance? Chairman Porter interjected that every staffperson in the Park Authority has a full plate of responsibilities, and Broadwell’s includes interaction with DNR. Porter stated that Broadwell had been working on the ordinance since before Frangiamore’s hiring. Boshears persisted in his questioning of Broadwell: why wasn’t Frangiamore brought into the process earlier than the final stages? Broadwell replied that he brought Frangiamore into the process at the point that he considered appropriate.
Lucien DeBacker wondered what changes had been made to the old beach-lighting ordinance, and whether houses or structures present before the ordinance’s adoption would be grandfathered in under the old ordinance? Answer: Take a look at the old and new versions to see the changes. No grandfathering will be granted. Broadwell pointed out that the new ordinance contains different sets of lighting requirements for nesting and non-nesting beaches. The requirements are more strict for nesting beaches (i.e., beaches absent rock armoring). Chairman Porter noted that the draft of the new ordinance would be immediately placed on the Authority’s website for public scrutiny.
Bonnie Newell stood and emphasized that her husband Steve had written the commentary (on behalf of the Jekyll Island Citizens Association, JICA) that evolved (with much input from DNR loggerhead experts) into the Shore Protection Committee’s lighting-plan requirements for the Canopy Bluff group as a condition of their Shore Protection Act permit. She also pointed out that the new draft Park beach lighting ordinance originated with her husband’s submission of his proposed new ordinance at the 10 March 2008 meeting of the Authority Board. Chairman Porter agreed with Bonnie Newell, and thanked Steve Newell for his instrumental part in the creation of the new draft ordinance. He stated that he joined in the enthusiastic applause in response to Bonnie Newell’s testimony. Ed Boshears called upon Newell to make a brief statement. Newell stated that he was very glad to see the draft ordinance, which had been improved from his original submission at the March Authority Board meeting, go forward toward adoption.
Frank Mirasola requested that the old, 1981, beach-lighting ordinance be placed on the Authority website, along with the new draft ordinance, so that the public could easily see and compare both versions. Chairman Porter stated that this would be done.
Chairman Porter announced that the Board and the Authority are now working on a Design Guideline for developers working in the Park. The Guideline will help developers adhere to a theme that will apply to new projects in the Park. Jim Broadwell referred to a document on Board members’ places describing his work over a number of years on the Guidelines, and Broadwell gave Frank Mirasola, immediate Past President of JICA, credit for input to the draft Guidelines. He hopes to have a final version of the Guidelines by the August Board meeting.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S UPDATE
Director Hooks apologized for the small glitches that occurred with the PowerPoint presentation of the documents discussed that were projected on a screen during the Board meeting. [NB: This is an excellent idea; it is often baffling for the public during discussion of documents that the Board members can see, but that the public audience cannot see.] However, he will iron out the glitches, and stick to electronic methods of distributing documents, because of the amount of paper that it saves. He called upon Board members to notify him if there are any problems with downloading of emailed documents, and reminded them that there would always be a hard copy available in the JISPA Offices.
Hooks took time to publicly praise the extreme dedication of the employees of the Park Authority. He has been very impressed with the number of years of seniority that many of the Park’s employees have, and their clear enjoyment of the work that they do. He referred to his recent sit-down with Mindy and David Egan, during which they praised the persistent absence of litter and trash in the Park. He has noticed that this is a consequence of both the good work of the Authority staff, and of the volunteer trash collection by residents of the Park. He used this example to express his opinion that the educational materials that visitors receive at the Parking Fee booth should be a little more comprehensive and describe more undesirable behaviors. Terry Norton of the Sea Turtle Center will be involved in this project, attempting to discourage behavior on the Park’s beaches that is negative for loggerhead nesting. If educational efforts are unsuccessful, then more discussion of enforcement methods will take place. Chairman Porter interjected that a little enforcement can go a long way. Hooks added that the Authority must be careful to communicate the rules clearly, through effective use of signage.
Director Hooks pointed out to the audience that he feels that it is very important for a Park to maintain its good appearance. The Authority will be doing some new plantings in the vicinity of areas that were looking a little barren. He emphasized that we in the Park must abide by the Park’s ordinances; for example, for bicycle vendors, horns and bells must be on the bikes, according to one of the Park’s ordinances. He feels that the Authority must enforce the ordinances that are on its books.
Director Hooks expressed satisfaction at the success of the Park’s Fourth of July weekend, at which there were no unfortunate incidents. He noted that he is concerned about the return on investment that the Park experiences, and the Fourth of July weekend has been critiqued in that regard, as has the Sea Turtle Weekend. This critiquing practice will be continued in the future.
Two grant proposals have been submitted, through the Park’s Fire Department. One was for a platform ladder truck, through the federal Firefighters Grant Program. Another was for more personnel, through the SAFER Program.
The Authority has examined its disaster preparedness, and has had some discussions with JICA in this regard.
Chairman Porter complimented the Authority staff for its good work during the period between Director Donohue’s departure and Director Hooks’ arrival. He joked that it occurred to him that perhaps he didn’t need to look for a new Director. He then complimented Director Hooks for his outstanding job during his first month at the top of the Authority, and his obviously getting a great feel for the quality of Park and its people.
Sandy Cerrato inquired about the fire-break buffers that have been cleared behind the residences off Riverview Drive. She wondered whether there would be barriers erected at the ends of the buffer zones, so that persons with off-road vehicles cannot drive onto the buffer zones and joyride, as they have been observed doing? Answer: Barriers will be established.
Bonnie Newell inquired about the Park’s Tree Ordinance, noting that it has not been formally adopted? Answer: Landscape Director Cliff Gawron is studying this issue.
Gloria Zocchi stated that this summer is her first in her new year-round residency, and she was very pleased to see that the fireworks display on the Fourth of July was better than she had ever seen elsewhere. She expressed gratitude to Director Hooks for choosing to live in the Park, so that he can obtain a full-fledged feel for the love of the Park that the residents feel. She also pointed out that another undesirable behavior of some Park visitors or residents is the driving of motorized carts on the bicycle paths. Director Hooks noted that this last item is already on the list of behaviors to be corrected.
Frank Mirasola pointed out that some years ago, JICA and JISPA had established a Beach Ranger program. He suggested that the current Authority might want to consider such a program. Director Hooks stated his openness to this idea, and Jim Broadwell added that he is already working on such a program.
Pat Overholt noted that the format of the day’s meeting, with all Board members facing the public audience, lent itself much more to effective communication than some other formats used at the Convention Center (with some Board members having their backs facing the audience). Chairman Porter saw the point of this argument, but joked that he needs to be able to maximally keep his eye on the Board members. Director Hooks informed Overholt that he has asked Shanna Brain to set up the August-meeting table in a U-shape, fashioning a compromise between the desires of Overholt and Porter.
Lucien DeBacker pointed out that there are several signs communicating to beach-goers that walking on the dunes is not permitted. But people violate this rule, and when DeBacker confronts them, they get angry. He suggested that cards explaining the dune-walking prohibition be distributed, so that residents could simply give out the cards to violators, and walk away, avoiding a verbal confrontation. Jack Overholt called for dune-prohibition signage that can be seen from the beach side. Frank Mirasola noted that many folks don’t understand that the dunes extend west beyond the beach.
Chairman Porter called for and received approval of the June Board minutes. Also approved was the Canopy Bluff ground lease (though Ed Boshears voted emphatically against it due to the $10-million lease concessions that it included, whereas the Patton people were willing to pay $8 million to obtain the lease on the Georgia Coast Inn site), and the new draft beach-lighting ordinance was officially given its first reading by notifying the public of its posting on the Authority website.
Kevin Runner of the Ocean Oaks group invited the audience to attend the formal groundbreaking of the Hampton Inn and Suites on the old Holiday Inn site at 12:00 noon, along with his partners Dave Curtis and Vance Hughes. Buffet lunch would be served under a tent after the shovels threw the dirt.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:13 AM.
steven Y. Newell, Secretary, Jekyll Island Citizens Association