Public Opinion and the Jekyll
Town Center Project
Since the fall of 2006, the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park (IPJI) has conducted three surveys dealing with Jekyll’s redevelopment. While the survey questions have varied with the times, common to all three surveys has been a question dealing with Jekyll’s need for a town center, the results of which have proven to be quite revealing.
The majority (61%) of the 6,717 respondents to the first two surveys, which were conducted prior to Linger Longer Communities (LLC) entering the picture, actually favored the concept of a town center (shops, restaurants, park space, a convention center and a convention hotel), but only 523 of those respondents (8%) wanted to see condominiums included within the town center, and only 109 (2%) wanted to see a hundred or more built.
The pattern of responses to IPJI’s ongoing Survey III, which focuses on LLC’s proposed town center, has been similar to that seen in earlier surveys. Ninety-five percent of the respondents have objected to the size of the town center being proposed; 98% have said “no” to the proposed number of condos and time-shares; and 91% want the town center to be a condo-free environment.
Since surveys using “yes/no” options have their limitations, the IPJI asked participants to elaborate on their responses so we could understand why people chose to reply as they did. A scan of those comments, which can be read on the IPJI’s web site (Click here to read comments) shows the following imperatives to be dominant: •Rebuild what needs rebuilding but do not build along Jekyll’s remaining open beachfront. •Refrain from building on or near Jekyll’s environmentally-sensitive areas. •Adhere to “green” building standards and design practices. •Ensure that Jekyll’s character, feel and grace are not compromised by redevelopment or new development. •Remain true to Jekyll’s tradition of affordability for average income citizens. •Remember that Jekyll is a state park—the people’s park—not a private resort; development that may be fine for the latter may be inappropriate for the former. •Stimulate visitation to Jekyll by catering to the island’s natural strengths rather than by trying to have Jekyll compete on the same playing field with the private resorts that line the east coast. •Accept the fact that critics of the town center proposal are neither ‘opposed to all change’ nor just ‘a handful of Jekyll residents’, as claimed by those who favor expansive development, but rather represent Jekyll’s visitors by the thousands from far and wide, who only want what’s best for the park they love. •Listen to what the island’s visitors are saying about what they want a revitalized Jekyll to look like; heed their recommendations.
Interestingly, reinforcement of the overall message conveyed in the IPJI’s surveys can be found in the responses to the final question on the Jekyll Island Authority’s own 2006 Visitor Survey, which asked, “Which choice below best describes your feelings about the future of Jekyll Island?”
•Eighteen percent of the 2,343 respondents checked the option, “New development is needed but should be strictly limited and increased to no more than 20% (possibly one hotel, 75 to 125 new housing/condominium units). •Just 5% agreed with the statement that, “Strict limitations should be eased to allow for more development of new hotels, homes and shops.” •A mere 2% felt that “free market forces should direct development.” •More than half (51%) agreed that “Any new development of hotels, cottages, condominiums, restaurants and shops should be limited to existing sites.” •Surprisingly, 17% checked the option, “Leave Jekyll exactly as it is – do nothing.” Only 3% of the respondents to the IPJI’s surveys registered feelings of this sort.
The message calling for non-expansive redevelopment of Jekyll Island State Park has been further endorsed by the more than 10,000 people who signed a resolution sponsored by Senator Jeff Chapman earlier this year, which, in expressing concern over the fact that the vast majority of the park’s beach that is easily accessible to the general public at all tide levels would be blocked by the proposed town center, called for the preservation of direct public access to Jekyll’s main beach.
The input on the town center proposal received by LLC through its web site may well follow the pattern established in the IPJI’s surveys and by other sources, but, unfortunately, we will be unable to confirm this since LLC has recently decided not to honor the IPJI’s request to make public the comments LLC has received.
In light of the above body of information, some basic questions arise:
•If the goal of the JIA board’s revitalization effort is to restore Jekyll to its heyday, as is often said, how does an expansive town center fit into this picture, given the fact that Jekyll did not have a town center during its heyday? •Can Jekyll have a town center with a modernized convention center, a new convention hotel, an updated retail center, and environmentally-friendly beachfront parking without populating the center with condos and time-shares? •With public opinion running against an expansive town center project, where is the empirical evidence that a “Jekyll Village” of the size and type put forward by LLC is what Jekyll needs and the park’s visitors want? •Will the proponents of comprehensive redevelopment of Jekyll’s main beachfront recognize the legitimacy of public concern over the town center proposal, or will we still hear the refrain that only a handful of island residents—‘those people opposed to all change’— object to the proposal? •If the vast majority of Jekyll’s visitors have rejected the idea of an expansive town center laden with condos, to what extent will the revised LLC town center proposal reflect the general will?
The JIA Board has indicated that LLC’s new town center plan should be made public sometime in August. The IPJI will inform its supporters when the new plan is released.