Savannah Morning News Articles, Commentary
and Guest Editorials 2008

A Middle way for Jekyll Island

Jekyll Island: A win for Georgia

Jekyll project Still falls short

Don't mess with Jekyll

JIA board member calls for investigation

Jekyll-area legislator questions deal

A middle way

Savannah Morning News
Created 2008-03-25 23:30

THE GEORGIA House Rules Committee should give state representatives more choices in Jekyll Island revitalization plans.

To date, GOP leaders in the General Assembly have favored the $352 million development proposed by Linger Longer, which would install 1,100 hotel rooms and condos on 63 acres - taking up the last stretch of open beach easily accessible to Georgia residents on the state-owned island.

When the House Rules Committee meets Thursday morning, it has the power to send amended Senate Bill 367 to the floor for a full House vote. Failure to do so would be to ignore those who want the state park to maintain its unique, tranquil atmosphere.

As amended by Rep. Debbie Buckner, SB 367 bans major construction on Jekyll's signature open beach area.

Rep. Buckner, D-Junction City, likens Linger Longer's current development plan to killing the goose that laid the golden egg. That may be too harsh. Still, Jekyll's unobstructed beach view is a major draw for visitors who prefer a seaside experience that does not include a wall of condos between them and the dunes, the beach and the ocean.

Rep. Buckner's plan instead steers revitalization back to the development company's original plan: Tearing down the outdated convention center and building a new development from that point south and west toward the interior of the island.

This alternative could have a much smaller impact on the island. While it does not limit the size of a new development, the original footprint was only 24 acres.

The amendment is similar to House Bill 1289, also sponsored by Ms. Buckner, which died in committee - as did the Senate version sponsored by Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick.

Make no mistake, Jekyll Island does need rejuvenation.

Existing hotels, in business for decades, have been ragged around the edges for years. However, the ongoing political debate must recognize that several of those hotels are currently under renovation. Competitive pressure should push the rest of Jekyll Island's hotels to do the same.

Allowing a floor vote on SB 367 would give representatives three options: Voting down both the 24-acre and the 63-acre plan in favor of current hotel renovations; backing Rep. Buckner's scaled down plan; or voting in favor for Linger Longer's city center plan with beachside hotel rooms and condos.

SB 367 gives representatives a "middle way" choice between a major impact on Jekyll's pristine beach area and relying solely on market pressure for renovation at existing hotels.

This, in turn, could facilitate a compromise that brings needed tourism infrastructure to Jekyll and maintains the serenity of a state park known for its sun, sand and waves - not to mention a view of the coast that's getting harder to come by each passing year.

Jekyll Island: Win for Georgia

Savannah Morning News
Created 2008-04-05 23:30

GEORGIANS WHO understand the importance of retaining a small piece of unobstructed coastline won an important victory last week on Jekyll Island.

It's now up to the public support other needed improvements to the state-owned island.

The Jekyll Island Authority, the state agency that oversees the barrier island, announced last Wednesday that it will not allow the construction of hotels or condominiums along a half-mile stretch of open beach.

Instead, according to authority Chairman Ben Porter, that area will be set aside for a public park and a planned environmental conservation center.

Both uses sound like ideal fits for this seaside location.

Mother Nature isn't making new beachfront property in Georgia where people can see the ocean without peering around walls or buildings. As proposed, a park and conservation center should help visitors understand, appreciate and enjoy one of the state's most prized if under-used assets.

Indeed, that's what revitalizing Jekyll is all about: Polishing a jewel that has lost some of its luster.

Up until last week, many lawmakers in the Georgia Legislature supported a $352 million redevelopment by Linger Longer Communities, which is known for its Reynolds Plantation development. The plan called for 1,100 new hotel rooms and condos on 63 acres, taking up the last stretch of open beach easily accessible to the public.

But several lawmakers - most notably State Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, and State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City - properly questioned the need to fill this void with lodging.

Accommodations can be built in several locations. But there's only one unobstructed view of the Atlantic Ocean. There's no compelling reason to block it.

Fortunately, Mr. Porter and Linger Longer representatives heard these concerns and have agreed to scale back. Their response indicates that they were sincere in seeking public comments.
And, even better, they listened.

But the job and Jekyll remains. Existing hotels have been ragged around the edges for too long. The island's convention center is outdated and inadequate.

Indeed, building a new development from that point south and west toward the island's interior is a concept worth supporting.

Georgians come to Jekyll for many different reasons. But a common one is to enjoy the beach without feeling like an unworthy intruder picking his way round condo row.

Jekyll is low-key and laid back. It's not like Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach or even Tybee Island. It has it's own character, and it's good to see that the best part of it won't be changing.

But Jekyll still needs work.

Most of the challenges that prompted the Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer to link up haven't gone away.

The same lawmakers, citizens and others who raised their voices against beachfront development now must join a common choir to create a more vibrant, more attractive Jekyll Island for current and future generations of Georgians.


Kyler: Jekyll project still falls short

By Savannah Morning News

Created 2008-04-11 23:30

There are vastly differing views on the changes made by the Jekyll Island Authority and Linger Longer Communities in a major development project reported and commented on recently in the Savannah Morning News.

The so-called concession to keep the "town center" project out of the Shore Protection Act jurisdiction is certainly welcome, but hardly magnanimous - nor evidently all that it first appeared to be.

Most agree that Jekyll's revitalization is needed. But there are fundamental disputes about what constitutes responsible revitalization versus ill-conceived over-development, no matter how profitable it may be.

Two distinct points must be made. First, by keeping the condos out of the state shoreline jurisdiction, project proponents will be avoiding costly delays caused by permit application, review, and the probable appeal of any forthcoming permit by public-interest groups.

LLC's substitute proposal to build an environmental interpretive center, a miniature golf course, and a playground in the shore protection area is less objectionable than condos, but it remains uncertain how those activities would conform with beach access, the public's highest priority for using the site.

Second, let it be clear that the bulk of the massive LLC development project will likely be altered very little, just moved westward, out of the shore protection area. Essential questions about the justification for thousands of additional rooms in private condos, time-share units, and still more hotel space remain unanswered.

It is remarkable that the "town center" proposal is often portrayed as being essential to Jekyll's redevelopment, yet there are already projects underway in hotel replacement that will more than double the park's current thousand-room capacity.

To the contrary, the town center project is primarily not redevelopment at all, but new development that threatens the relaxing atmosphere that is the hallmark of the treasured Jekyll Island State Park experience.

By moving the most controversial features of the project, the condos, out of the shorefront area north of the convention center while retaining the town center's large scale, more damage to environmentally important maritime forest and wetlands to the west is very likely.

This pristine land is designated as a "nature preserve" in the JIA's 1996 Master Plan and is the home of a unique ecosystem which contributes substantially to species diversity within the park's interio
Before any part of this project moves ahead, the public deserves a long overdue explanation by the Jekyll Island Authority justifying the need for it. Such an analysis should be based in part on project impacts on natural resources, especially in light of the languishing "conservation plan," which remains unadopted after being drafted more than two years ago, and an island master plan that made no recommendation for development on the scale being proposed.

Better yet, the JIA should reconsider its obligations to the public and establish a transparent, adaptive planning process that includes broad stakeholder involvement. Proposals for future development of the island, within the established limit of 35 percent of its land area, should then be required to be consistent with a comprehensive analysis produced in that open planning effort.

With proper guidance, the Jekyll redevelopment effort could become a national model of success, demonstrating a strong conservation and sustainability ethic worth emulating.

Unfortunately, realizing such an inspiring legacy is being prevented by the JIA's aversion to transparency, objective use of environmental and capacity criteria and meaningful public involvement.

David Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, a non-profit environmentalist group that has offices on St. Simons Island and in Savannah.

Don't mess with Jekyll

Savannah Morning News

Created 2008-07-17 23:30

VOTERS IN the Brunswick area sent Gov. Sonny Perdue, the Georgia Legislature and other officials a loud and clear message in Tuesday's primary election: Don't mess with Jekyll Island.

At least not too much
In a race billed as a referendum on redevelopment of the state-owned island, two-term incumbent State Sen. Jeff Chapman thumped challenger Terry Carter in a closely watched Republican primary.
The right guy won.

Jekyll is showing its age, and there's no question that it needs a fix-up. The question is one of degree.
Mr. Chapman has been the head cheerleader for limited redevelopment. That means improving amenities while preserving an open stretch of beach front and protecting the island's ecologically fragile areas for future generations to enjoy.

Mr. Carter hammered his fellow Republican for fighting developer Linger Longer's more expansive redevelopment plans. He blanketed the area with mailers and phone calls to take the incumbent down.
It was a waste of money.

Mr. Chapman won the nomination, proving that slick salesmanship can't sell the wrong message.

Board member blasts Jekyll plans

By Savannah Morning News

Created 2008-09-24 23:30
ATLANTA - A former state senator deposed from his seat on the Jekyll Island Authority board issued a sweeping condemnation Wednesday of efforts to revitalize the state park, saying the project was instead being turned into a sweetheart deal for a politically connected development company.

t retiriig Rep. Richard Royal, R-Camilla, would take over the seat after Boshears' term expired over the summer.

While agreeing that some improvements are needed for Jekyll's creaking tourist infrastructure, Boshears has been a consistent critic of ambitious plans by the authority and its private partner, Linger Linger Communities, to remake the state park.

In his statement, Boshears said Perdue and two top-ranking board officials had been involved in a plan to reward Linger Longer, owned by the politically connected family of Mercer Reynolds, by giving it access to a coveted piece of coastal real estate.

"This was intended to be a massive give-away of State property to Mercer Reynolds, Finance Chairman for John McCain's presidential campaign," Boshears wrote. "This would have amounted to the greatest theft of State property since the Yazoo land frauds 200 years ago."

Boshears was referring to a post-Revolutionary War scandal in which state officials gave speculators a good and allegedly corrupt deal on millions of acres of land in what is now Alabama and Mississippi.
Boshears called for an independent investigation and for the state to delay signing contracts with Linger Longer until after the investigation was complete.

"I haven't got an ax to grind," Boshears said in an interview with the Georgia Times-Union. "I honestly feel what has gone on over there is not right."

Boshears said he saved some of his sharpest criticisms until now because he felt he could accomplish more by staying on the board, but the governor's decision to fill Boshears' seat with someone else cleared Boshears to speak his mind.

By statute, board members may remain until the governor selects a replacement. For example, authority board member Mike Hodges' term expired a year and a half ago, Boshears said.

Several key aspects of deals to revitalize Jekyll were illegally discussed in secret meetings, and Perdue was intimately involved in the details of the island overhaul, Boshears said. Perdue's office strenuously denies that the governor is micromanaging the board's actions.

Officials with Linger Longer and the state dismissed Boshears' charges as ludicrous.

"Mr. Boshears comments have no basis," said Jim Langford, who oversees the company's work on the island.

Bert Brantley, the governor's press secretary, also denied Boshears' charges.

"These things are outrageous and patently untrue," Brantley said.

He said the governor's instructions to the authority amounted to little more than an admonition that they do what was best for the state of Georgia.

"He has not tried to influence the board in the decisions that they are making one bit," Brantley said.

Published on (

Jekyll-area legislator questions deal

By Savannah Morning News

December 18, 2008

ATLANTA - The recently inked contract for the redevelopment of prime real estate along the beach on Jekyll Island sparked questions from the area's state senator during a meeting Tuesday of the legislative committee overseeing the coastal state park.

Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, called the Dec. 1 contract a sweetheart deal for the private developer, Linger Longer Communities, and urged the committee to halt progress on the development until the contract is reviewed further.

Members of the Jekyll Island Authority who signed the agreement said it was a fair deal for state taxpayers and reflected a better bargain than the leases that more than 800 residents hold, which allows them to live on the island for a fraction of the market value of the land they have access to - on average $350 per year.

Chapman, who is not a member of the oversight committee, offered his comments after the board had updated the panel about progress redeveloping the aging hotels and convention center on the island. He said allowing Linger Longer to keep 99 percent of the profits from sales of vacation condos with the authority only getting 1 percent amounted to a bad deal.

"These lease terms represent a needless giveaway of positive-generated revenues that could be used to help maintain and operate the state park," he said.

Chapman noted that the authority agreed to invest $25 million in the project, which includes a new convention center and retail center. With interest on the bond, the authority could easily spend $50 million, he said, and only reap $40 million in returns from Linger Longer.

Authority staff note that the deal also includes rent that will be paid to the agency even if no condo units are sold.

Authority Chairman Bob Krueger said the deal is based on the worth of the property Linger Longer will lease, as determined by an independent appraiser.

"We are receiving the fair market value," he said, adding that he would not delay construction because doing so would only worsen revenues for the authority as tourism on the island declines due to the unappealing infrastructure. On Monday, the authority announced it will lay off dozens of employees because of falling revenues.

Authority Vice Chairman Steve Croy said Chapman's proposed delay also would harm the other businesses on the island.

"Let's talk about the grocers and the retailers who are on the island and barely holding on in the hopes things will get better," Croy said. "They have lost more than the average Georgian."

State Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, chaired the oversight committee and suggested Chapman send his concerns in a letter, but Keen said the committee had no power to alter or stop a contract signed by the authority.

Chapman said he would send the letter soon.

Published on (