The Jekyll Development Picture:
Just the Facts
As of August 5, 2009, a total of 1,050 new hotel rooms, condominiums and time-shares are planned, approved or under construction for Jekyll Island. The breakdown is as follows:
Time-shares and condominiums
160 Town Center timeshares [construction supposed to begin in 2010]
75 Town Center condos [construction supposed to begin in 2010]
127 Canopy Bluff condos [initial proposal now under revision]
80 Oceanfront Resort condos [under construction; completion in Sept. 2009]
28 Georgia Coast condos [initial proposal now under revision]
80 Jekyll Ocean Oaks condos [plan yet to be released]
550 = total number of new time-share/condo units
200 rooms – Town Center mid-scale hotel [construction to begin in 2010]
150 rooms – Town Center economy hotel [construction to begin in 2010]
300 rooms – Canopy Bluff Resort [replacement for the Buccaneer Resort; initial proposal
is currently under revision; update, September 2009]
135 rooms – Hampton Inn & Suites [replacement for the Holiday Inn; currently under
construction; scheduled to open in January 2010]
105 rooms – Inn & Cottages at Georgia Coast [replacement for the Georgia Coast Inn;
original proposal is now under revision]
180 rooms – Jekyll Oceanfront Resort [construction due to begin in September 2009]
1050 = total number of new hotel rooms
The new condos, time-shares and hotel rooms listed above will bring Jekyll’s total number of lodging and residential units to 3,313, which represents a 44 percent increase over the all-time high figure of 2,303 total units reached back in the 1990s.
Additional development is called for in the JIA’s February 2009 “Business Plan and Visitation Analysis,” bringing the total lodging/residence inventory to 4,100 units by the year 2023, a 60 percent increase over the all-time high. Presumably, the additional units will come from:
• The reconstruction/expansion of the Oceanside Inn and Suites • The construction of condos or villas within the golf course complex • The development of all or part of the 55 acres allegedly remaining within the 35 percent of Jekyll Island that is developable according to law.
The JIA maintains that the projected growth of Jekyll’s built environment and the forecasted doubling of the island’s peak season daily population to 15,000 people will not have a significant effect on Jekyll’s character or the quality of the visitor experience.
Rebuilding Jekyll’s aging oceanfront hotels and convention center is necessary if the island is to be restored to its heyday, which is the prime goal of the JIA’s revitalization program. A modest increase in the island’s number of lodging units is also needed if Jekyll is to serve as a vacation site of choice for Georgia’s growing population and out of state visitors. Since the JIA is aiming for a 20 percent increase in Jekyll’s all-time number of annual visitors, a 20 percent increase in lodging units, therefore, ought to be sufficient to accomplish this goal.
However, the JIA has already approved hotel, condo and time-share projects that will boost Jekyll’s lodging inventory by 44 percent and is forecasting additional growth that would increase that figure to 60 percent. This growth scenario raises some troubling questions.
- Why would lodging inventory growth in the order of 60 percent be needed to increase annual visitation by 20 percent?
- Surveys, including one conducted by the JIA in 2006, show that visitors support hotel reconstruction where needed but do not want to see significant growth in Jekyll’s built environment. Why, then, is the JIA aiming for transformational growth that is unpopular with the island’s visitors and well beyond that needed to achieve stated annual visitation goals? If not Jekyll’s visitors, then who wants this mega-growth? Who will be the beneficiaries? Who stands to profit; who stands to lose out?
- Why did the JIA sanction a Jekyll Island density study that severely underestimated the impact that the forecasted growth would have on Jekyll’s character and the quality of the visitor experience? That study, as shown by a recent professional review (click here to read analysis) invalidated itself by including over 5,000 acres of marshland west of the island and along the Jekyll causeway when calculating the per acre lodging and population density of the “built-out” Jekyll.
- How can the JIA claim that Jekyll’s build-out will not affect the island’s character or the quality of the visitor experience? The JIA’s own density study states that by 2023 Jekyll’s projected accommodations inventory would be larger than that of ‘comparable’ resorts, including St. Simon’s Island, Tybee Island, Captiva/Sanibel Island (FL), Kiawah Island (SC) and Ocean Isle Beach (NC). Only one of the nine resorts the JIA believes is comparable to Jekyll would be more densely populated, on a per acre basis, than the built-out Jekyll. In fact, Jekyll’s population density after the projected build-out would be more than twice the Bureau of Census definition of an urban area. Contrary to the JIA’s claim, this kind of growth will most certainly affect Jekyll’s character.
- Why did the JIA’s density study fail to consider the potential impacts of the forecasted growth on Jekyll’s environment and natural systems?
In sum, the bad news is obvious - increasing Jekyll’s built environment to the degree forecasted by the JIA will crowd the 35 percent of the island (1,455 acres) that is developable by law and change Jekyll’s character for the worse. The good news is that there is still time to tone down the JIA’s grandiose plans, if not through the kind of pressure IPJI brought to bear on Linger Longer’s mega-town center project, then perhaps through the appointment of a JIA board more attentive to public opinion, a step that could be taken by Georgia’s next Governor, who will be elected in 2010.
IPJI has already shown on two key occasions that grassroots civic action involving large numbers of highly motivated citizens can be effective in protecting Jekyll from inappropriate and unwanted development. We may need to mobilize IPJI for action once again and rally support from other pro-Jekyll groups as well if the JIA board attempts to push for development beyond the already approved 44 percent increase in Jekyll’s lodging stock, as described above.