OPINION: Who really speaks for Georgians on Jekyll’s future?
The Macon Telegraph
By Barbara McDonald
January 31, 2009
The recent column by state legislators Jerry Keen, Eric Johnson, Tommie Williams and Roger Lane deserves a bit of examination and reflection from a plain citizen. In that column, the legislators praised the Jekyll Island Authority’s (JIA) “revitalization” plan for Jekyll Island State Park.
The four legislators claimed the JIA’s plan “embraces affordability.” I cannot speak for all Georgians, but a condominium price of between $500,000 and $990,000 is not affordable to me.
Consider these “affordable” hotel rates: An average daily room rate of $200 at the Georgia Coast Inn, $180 at the Canopy Bluff Resort and $170 at Linger Longer Communities’ “mid-scale” hotel. I doubt if the “plain people of Georgia,” for whose benefit Jekyll Island State Park was established, would agree with our elected representatives’ concept of “affordability.”
These four legislators claimed the “revitalization” plan makes financial sense for the JIA. Where is the financial sense in a plan that requires $50 million in state bonds to make up for the tens of millions of dollars of prospective revenue given away by the JIA?
Private developers, not Georgia citizens, will benefit from sweetheart deals that allow them to build on oceanfront land (that I, and all Georgians, own) for free. I say “for free” because the lease fee for the land that will house Jekyll’s 400+ new condos and time-shares will be paid for by the people who buy these properties.
And once these properties are purchased by those who can afford them, those of us who cannot will be gated out of our own state park.
In a recent radio interview conducted by Wilson Smith, Tommie Williams said he did not care how much money Linger Longer was making on the town center project “since the JIA is getting such a good deal.”
Is he serious? The JIA’s financial projections for Jekyll’s time-share complex show an investment of $37.6 million by Linger Longer and gross sales of $163 million, with the JIA getting a 1 percent share while providing acres of oceanfront land (my land) and the supporting infrastructure.
The JIA gets a mere $14 million in direct net revenue over the first 15 years of the project, according to its own projections. Between 1949 and 1951, the first hotel lessee on Jekyll Island paid the state 20 percent of gross receipts. Surely, oceanfront land is worth at least as much today as it was in 1949.
Sen. Johnson — an ex officio member of the JIA board — is also smitten by the Linger Longer deal. According to JIA board member Steve Croy, Johnson has taken the lead in securing state bond funds (funded by Georgia citizens) for the town center project. Maybe this is not a conflict of interest, but Johnson’s campaign finance chairman for his bid to become lieutenant governor is Jamie Reynolds, as in Linger Longer, the JIA’s private partner.
It gets better. Mr. Croy will serve as campaign finance chair for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle’s run for the office of governor. Isn’t it odd how this Jekyll deal keeps rippling back to the leadership of the Republican Party, Gov. Perdue included?
The legislators with real courage, particularly Sen. Jeff Chapman, R–Brunswick, are the ones saying Jekyll can be rebuilt without placing the state in hock with sweetheart deals with politically connected developers.
They are also saying Jekyll’s improvements must be made to benefit the citizen-owners of the state park. They are urging the JIA to honor the park’s affordability mandate and to ensure park redevelopment takes place at “the lowest rates reasonable and possible for the benefit of the people of Georgia,” as state law requires.
In all, they are the ones with the political courage to speak out for what’s right for the common good, not for what’s right for Linger Longer.
Come 2010, I hope the people of Georgia will recall which elected officials stood where, and why, on the “good deal” the JIA has negotiated on the public’s behalf.
Barbara McDonald is a resident of Athens and can be reached at: email@example.com
Below are three Op-ed pieces printed in the Macon Daily Telegraph regarding the Bleakly Advisory Group’s “Analysis of the Impacts of Long Term Development on Jekyll Island.” The first is written by Senator Jeff Chapman pointing out the deficiencies of the study, the second is by Ken Bleakly defending the study, the third is an analysis of the study by Ken Cordell, Ph.D., nationally known expert in public land planning.
Jekyll study understates development
By Senator Jeff Chapman
Special to The Telegraph
March 9, 2009
The Jekyll Island Authority is at it again, this time endorsing a density study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group, which claims that the proposed 150 percent increase in the state park’s year-round residences and rental accommodations by the year 2023 would still make Jekyll “significantly less developed than other comparable coastal destinations in terms of resident and seasonal population, housing density and traffic volumes.”
Truth be told, Bleakly based his calculations on a U.S. Census Bureau report that includes more than 5,000 acres of marshland, most of which surrounds the six-mile long Jekyll Causeway, as part of Jekyll Island.
By artificially doubling Jekyll’s real size, Bleakly attempted to show that, on a per acre basis, the built-up Jekyll of the future would not be overdeveloped or overcrowded, when, in fact, the exact opposite would be true.
But Bleakly’s misrepresentation of the truth does not end there. He ignored the fact that 65 percent of Jekyll Island must, by law, remain in its natural state.
When population and housing units per acre are calculated on the basis of the legally developable portion of the island, Jekyll would rank at the top of the list in virtually all density categories with regard to the other coastal vacation sites selected by Bleakly as comparables.
The JIA has tried to lend some support to Bleakly’s misrepresentations by claiming that the proposed massive increase in the number of the park’s lodging and housing units will simply restore the park’s built-in environment to its peak level, which was reached back in the 1980s.
The truth is that during its peak years the park had 2,300 lodging/housing units, not the 4,000 units forecasted by the JIA.
Enough of the exaggerations and misrepresentations. The public deserves to know the truth. Jekyll Island is, after all, a state park set aside for the plain people of Georgia. It is not a private resort as the JIA would have us believe.
The people, as the true owners of the island park, should have a say in Jekyll’s redevelopment. Instead, they are continually misled by a JIA board that seems determined to slip one by the public and allow a private developer to commercialize the people’s park.
Jeff Chapman represents Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn and McIntosh counties in Georgia’s 3rd Senate District.
In defense of Jekyll Island study
By Kenneth Bleakly
Special to The Telegraph
March 15, 2009
Sen. Jeff Chapman (Viewpoints, 3/9/09) criticized what he termed a “density study” prepared for the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) by Bleakly Advisory Group. This “study” was in fact just a small part of a year-long effort by Bleakly Advisory Group to assist the JIA in developing a 15-year business plan for the state park. The purpose of our firm’s work was to develop a realistic financing strategy to pay for future operations and needed capital improvements to the state park, with the lowest possible levels of future development and taxpayer cost.
Sen. Chapman’s letter was another in a series of criticisms of that effort, which are largely based on his inaccurate understanding of its findings. The “density study” he refers to was an effort to enable the JIA to visualize the implications of projected future development levels that will be needed to raise state park revenues in order to cure deferred maintenance of state property, improve visitor amenities to competitive levels and finance the growing annual cost of maintaining Georgia’s jewel.
To provide a visual framework for projected island development 15 years into the future, our firm analyzed population, housing, lodging and traffic indicators at nine comparable coastal communities in the Southeast, which are familiar to many Georgians. (The nine locations compared are Tybee Island and St. Simons Island in Georgia; St. George Island, Santa Rosa Island/Pensacola Beach and Captiva/Sanibel Island in Florida; Fripp Island, Pawley’s Island and Kiawah Island in South Carolina and Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.)
To enable consistent, unbiased comparison, our firm relied upon U.S. Census definitions of the geographies of those locations, as well as 2000 Census data for population and housing counts. In a physical sense, the locations selected for analysis exhibit varying levels of comparability to Jekyll Island, yet offer similar types of visitor experiences and amenities. They were selected to provide a framework of coastal communities that might be familiar for comparative purposes, not because they are identical to Jekyll.
Like Jekyll Island, these communities collectively contain more than 36,000 acres of protected marshlands, state and national parks, wildlife preserves, conservation areas, active recreation areas and other land on which development is severely restricted or prohibited altogether. Like Jekyll, they are reachable directly by automobile, which is a critical measure of accessibility for the citizens of Georgia.
Unlike Jekyll Island, the average age of housing in these communities does not exceed 40 years and there has been substantially more private investment in upgrading lodging, commercial properties and visitor attractions in recent years. Also unlike Jekyll Island, none of those locations has suffered a near 30 percent reduction in annual visitation over the past two decades.
If one logically assumes that tourists tend to visit areas which they perceive as “attractive” and avoid areas they do not, then all nine of the locations are superior to Jekyll Island based upon their competitive market acceptance.
Our analysis made no effort to characterize whether projected development levels in 2023 should be considered acceptable or unacceptable from a policy perspective. It was simply a straightforward presentation of how those levels of development would compare to other coastal locations.
The findings showed that projected housing development and population levels at Jekyll Island in 2023 would be within the range of conditions in 2000 at the nine comparable locations. This was true both in terms of total population/unit estimates and the resulting densities as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau and reported nationally.
Forecasted 2023 seasonal population and traffic volumes would also be near the middle of the range of current conditions at the comparable locations. Jekyll Island would, however, be at the highest end of the range in terms of commercial lodging.
There are no “misrepresentations of truth” in the research as stated by Sen. Chapman and the assumptions and limitations of the analysis are fully documented in our report. We would encourage anyone who is truly interested in the future of Jekyll Island to obtain a copy of our report on the JIA’s Web site and read it yourself, rather than rely on Sen. Chapman’s erroneous interpretation of what it says.
Kenneth Bleakly is president of Bleakly Advisory Group, Inc.
More on Jekyll Island ‘density study’
By Ken Cordell
Special to The Telegraph
March 22, 2009
In his response (Your Say, Viewpoints, 3/18/09), (Kenneth) Bleakly said of Sen. Jeff Chapman “(the senator) criticized what he termed a ‘density study’ prepared for the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) by the Bleakly Advisory Group.” But a density study is what his group did. The entire focus was to speculate about how many condominiums, beach cottages and square footage of commercial space, as well as how much traffic congestion per square mile, could be generated from development of Jekyll Island State Park. Units per square mile = density
I have worked in the field of park planning and management research for a number of years. I have published over 325 professional papers nationally and internationally, have spoken at over 300 professional conferences and have authored five books relating to the subject. Knowing I have this background, Sen. Chapman asked that I review the Bleakly density study. I did and I feel I have a good understanding of what was done and why.
From my review I concluded that the Bleakly density study was fatally flawed in a number of regards, and that it should not be used as a basis for proceeding with commercial development of the state park for a number of reasons.
But first, regarding Sen. Chapman: It is my understanding that the senator is a trustworthy and devoted champion of the people of his district, and of the people of Georgia. He is also a devoted family man and leader in his community. He has opposed commercial development of Jekyll Island because it is not what Georgians want done with their (our) state park, and therefore is not the right thing for the Jekyll Island Authority to do.
Polls of visitors and convention-goers have more than adequately demonstrated that luxury condominium and hotel development of public beach areas is not what average Georgians want for their children’s and grandchildren’s park. The senator has not criticized anyone personally . . . Instead, he has criticized Mr. Bleakly’s studies and the contracts with Linger Longer development corporation.
The Bleakly studies make many unsubstantiated claims, do not use widely known and published professional park planning methods and decision criteria, and use questionable data. It seems highly likely that there are some political motivations behind recent, scathing criticisms of the senator. But, it appears to me he is doing what he was elected to do and what one must do in a democratic society. He is questioning what the JIA is doing, and he is questioning the unprecedented corporate bonuses being given to the Linger Longer development corporation.
In my review, as a professional in the field for a number of years, I concluded that “the Bleakly Advisory Group density impact analysis is not based on widely known, published and accepted park planning principles and theory, and the data and analysis are fatally flawed leading to wrong conclusions. It is this reviewer’s recommendation that the analysis be rejected and withdrawn from further consideration.”
The real story is that the development being pursued will make Jekyll Island one of the more densely developed islands along the Southeast coast.
The Bleakly Advisory Group and the Jekyll Island Authority have focused all their attention on development and making money. These are totally inappropriate criteria for management of a state park, a point made over and over to the Jekyll Island Authority. Providing visitors with the state park experiences they seek and stewardship of park recreational, cultural and natural resources are the right criteria, according to internationally accepted standards for park planning.
But analyses of these criteria have never been done, even though they are referenced over and over in JIA and Bleakly documents. In pointing out these flaws, it seems no one has been listening, except Sen. Chapman. Mr. Bleakly says all the “comparable” islands were just like Jekyll. Sorry, not so. Jekyll Island is in its entirety a publicly owned piece of park land, not mostly privately owned like the other islands.
Only 35 percent of Jekyll can be developed. Criteria for planning a public park are in no way similar to the criteria for planning commercial development of private land. But the JIA and Mr. Bleakly don’t seem to see this. It seems that lucrative corporate bonuses through development contracts for building on beachfront public property, our property, is the drummer out ahead of this development march.
Ken Cordell, PhD., is a resident of Athens.