Bleakly Advisory Group’s “Analysis of the Long Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island:”
Report on JIA-Sponsored Question and Answer Session,
Sept. 29, Jekyll Convention Center
On September 29th, the JIA held a question and answer session regarding the recently released “Analysis of the Long Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island,” a study conducted by the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG). The session opened with a BAG presentation in which a host of statistics, charts and graphs were offered in support of a forecast calling for annual park visitation to increase by 1.2 million people in order to generate funds to finance a backlog of capital improvement income projects totaling $100 million. Offering a growth scenario that envisions Jekyll’s lodgings and residences increasing from its all time high of 2,300 to 3,700 at the end of the 15-year forecast period, BAG said that Jekyll’s projected “build out” and the consequent increase in population would fall below the “low density” level established by the Cooper Carry company as part of its work with the BAG team.
The increase in accommodations cited above is expected to boost the island’s peak season population from the current figure of 7,800 to 15,000, and increase the JIA’s annual operating revenues from its current level of $18.3 million to $48.4 million by the year 2023, which would enable the Authority to support operating and maintenance costs and pay for capital improvement projects and the enhancement of visitor amenities, according to BAG.
Following BAG’s presentation, a large number of questions were raised by the members of an audience of some 150 people. Below is a sampling of the questions raised and of some of the many questions submitted by email to the IPJI by people who were unable to attend the meeting. To view a videotape of the entire question and answer session, go to - http://albums.phanfare.com/slideshow.aspx?u=4910322&a_id=2842068
A Sample of the Questions about the BAG Report
Why didn’t the JIA contract with professionals in the field of public land planning and resource management to conduct its “Analysis of Long-Term Impacts of Development on Jekyll Island” instead of handing out a no-bid contract to a consulting firm (BAG) lacking experience in public land planning, recreation and resource management?
Why didn’t BAG make use of the professional literature from the field of public land planning which uniformly calls for the integration of public participation in the type of analysis being conducted by BAG? For example, the public could have been actively engaged in such tasks as:
•The establishment of alternative growth scenarios •The determination of the park’s publicly desired characteristics •The definition of the “visitor experience”
Jekyll has attracted fewer visitors over the past two decades as BAG reports, but why is this the case? Has BAG assumed that fewer people are coming here because Jekyll lacks the built environment visitors desire? Is it reasonable to assume that by building more stuff, people will come to Jekyll in greater numbers?
How was the so-called “low density” scenario established? “Low” compared to what?
BAG projects an average daily population increase from the current figure of 6,000 to 11,900 in 2023, and to 15,000 a day during peak periods. Will population growth of this size fundamentally alter the experience of being on Jekyll? If so, will visitors be inclined to return to the island – will the “build-out” become counter–productive?
Have the $100 million in infrastructure needs and capital improvement projects been justified, prioritized and shown to be cost-effective?
BAG says visitation needs to increase over the peak totals of the early 1990s by 21%, yet BAG also claims a 60% increase is needed in Jekyll’s lodgings and residences in order to generate the 21% growth in visitation. Why the imbalance between these two figures?
BAG’s projected increase in average daily room rates from the current figure of $116 to $240 at end of the forecast period is said to average just 2.7% a year, yet the actual increase is 7%. Please explain this discrepancy.
Is the average daily room rate (ADR) projected in BAG’s “Lodging Revenue” chart (page 24, Appendix) consistent with the legal mandate that Jekyll’s facilities be affordable for people of average income? The average daily rate for accommodations is projected to increase by $55 to $171 by 2013; to $202 by 2018; and to $240 by 2023. ADR growth of this magnitude will put Jekyll’s lodgings beyond the financial reach of mainstream citizens, leaving us with the question, who is the new Jekyll Island State Park intended to serve? [Note: The IPJI’s surveys show that more than 80% of Jekyll visitors will not be able to vacation on the island if room rates pass $170 per day].
Do BAG’s projected occupancy rates and JIA revenues from lodgings take into account the number of Jekyll’s current visitors who will cease coming to the island because they can no longer afford to vacation there, or who will find a Jekyll with this much built environment not to their liking.
Why has an analysis of the visitor experience been placed last in the sequence of BAG’s tasks? Shouldn’t this precede the other steps since an understanding of what Jekyll’s customers want and expect is essential to forecasting how much and what kind of development would boost visitation and JIA revenues? In short, why did BAG do a growth scenario first and assign the visitor experience to the tail end of its work?
Ironically, the Visitor Experience Analysis, as outlined in BAG’s contract, shows that it will be conducted without input from Jekyll’s visitors. The contract states (page 5), “Public perceptions concerning the desirability of existing destinations, which are most comparable to what Jekyll might become in the future, can be used to define a realistic upper range of development and density that is appropriate for Jekyll over the forecast period.” Missing from this analysis is input from real, live Jekyll visitors. Why not poll visitors, likely visitors, and those who once visited but no longer do to find out what Jekyll’s existing and potential customers want the park to look like?
BAG calls for the JIA to take on $100 million in bond debt in order to help finance Jekyll’s projected build out, leaving the Authority with a debt service burden of $8.2 million a year by 2020. A mentality that says borrow to build and build to create the funds to pay for borrowing leads to a self-perpetuating cycle that produces more and more development and greater debt. Is this fiscally wise? When is enough enough? When does Jekyll cease to be Jekyll because of the “build out?”
What would be the JIA’s net income from hotel and convention center redevelopment and from spin-off revenues from increased use of amenities? Would it approach the revenue the JIA needs to run the island and handle capital improvement projects over time if the JIA did not take on debt associated with projects unrelated to the enhancement of amenities or to hotel and convention center redevelopment?
Does BAG’s forecast for hotel revenue growth factor in the rent abatements given to hotel developers? In Canopy Bluff’s case, this amounts to somewhere between $7.5 million and $14 million, depending on whose figures are used.
Why has BAG, in calculating Jekyll’s decline in visitation, continued to use Georgia Department of Transportation causeway traffic count figures (which are one-day counts that are annualized) that have been shown to be highly misleading? According to the GDOT itself, the traffic counts from the early 1990s were taken on dates during the peak season, while those for the years 2003-2007 were taken during winter months. The use of an “apples and oranges” comparison to show a “51% decline in visitation” reflects poorly on BAG’s report.
In the BAG report, natural resources protection and how the proposed development might affect natural resources did not appear to have been considered. If it was considered, how was it considered? If it was not considered, why not?
How did the BAG analysis take into account the current financial markets and how these markets might affect visitation and visitor preferences in the future?
How did the BAG analysis take into account the changes in recreation preferences that are being predicted by current recreation and tourism models? For example one of the capital improvements cited is $30 million worth of historic district maintenance and development, yet current visitation statistics show visits to historic sites declining across the United States.
Why wasn’t a study such as BAG’s done in advance of plans for Jekyll’s revitalization? Under any halfway rational and scientific methodology this key question would have been asked and answered PRIOR to securing a private revitalization partner and putting redevelopment projects into the "pipeline." An honest analysis exploring a range of viable options at the outset of contemplated revitalization could have been an asset in guiding revitalization and could have obviated the perceived need for a private "revitalization partner." Instead, BAG appears to have produced a whitewash job designed to bolster a conclusion reached prior to investigation, namely, if Linger Longer builds it, people will come and bring loads of cash.