Repolished jewel
Editorial by Savannah Morning News
July 14, 2009

JEKYLL ISLAND needs a good sprucing up, and we're encouraged by the latest details released on planned renovations.

Inadequate meeting space, and aging accommodations and amenities have contributed to a decline in visitation to the state-owned island, down about 30 percent from its peak 10 years ago.

The point of the publicly operated resort might not be to make tons of money (state law mandates hotel rooms accessible to Georgians of "average income"), but neither is it to allow offerings on Jekyll to deteriorate to the point that no one wants to visit.

Georgians should be pleased with revitalization plans unveiled Monday at the Jekyll Island Authority board meeting.

The plan amounts to repolishing Georgia's island jewel.

Lead architect Mike Chatham told board members that visitors' welcoming view - now blocked by the old convention center - will instead be the island's main draw: The beach.

While the plan discussed this week is a bit different from the proposal made in October, the new design sticks to the 48-acre footprint from last fall. The location of two hotels has shifted and a road has been rerouted to disturb less of the native forest. Also, traffic will no longer be funneled to the proposed new convention center, but to a little village of shops and restaurants.

Nowhere in this makeover plan are the $500,000 condos and expensive hotels from the initial proposal, which would have hogged beach frontage and priced many Georgians out of visiting their own state park.

Credit folks like David Egan, of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, for raising enough sand to shame the JIA board into dialing back on its grandiose plans.

While Mr. Egan doubts that the current proposal's 30,000 square feet of retail space is what people come to Jekyll for, he has expressed gratitude for the overall plan's reduced environmental impact.

Indeed, the recommendation appears to make more efficient use of space while increasing the variety of activities available to visitors.

Architects envision a convention center with a 50,000-square-foot meeting hall that may be partitioned for smaller events. The existing center's largest room is 15,000 square feet. The outdated facility's design breaks up its meeting spaces such that they cannot be easily used in tandem.

And while Mr. Egan and his cohorts were right to object to Linger Longer's first plan, his fears over fresh new retail space are probably unfounded. Many beachgoers will likely enjoy the added diversion and a chance to pick up a stylish memento of their stay. Convention visitors often have time to fill and spouses or children back home to bring gifts to.

What's more, the benefits of better meeting spaces and accommodations should go beyond that new-hotel smell. The new offerings should push the owners of the existing hotels - some of whose properties are dank and overpriced - to invest money in needed renovations.

That's a win-win for Georgians and out-of-state visitors who treasure a quiet, but comfortable surfside getaway.

Published on SavannahNow.com (http://savannahnow.com)