Savannah Morning News

Don't give up
December 14, 2009

LAST WEEK'S implosion of a needed makeover for Jekyll Island is unfortunate and caught a lot of people by surprise.

A considerable amount of time and effort had been put into the $100 million plan to repolish this jewel of a state-owned barrier island, which had lost some of its sparkle and appeal.

However, we're encouraged by statements that this latest, unexpected decision isn't the last word on the subject.

A spokesman for the Jekyll Island Authority, the appointed board that oversees the island just south of Brunswick, vowed that the project isn't dead.

"We are very optimistic that we can keep things moving forward," Eric Garvey said.

Let's hope that's the case.

While we understand why Linger Longer Communities, the private developer chosen to oversee the project, pulled out because of a tight credit market, we expect the Jekyll Island Authority not to throw in the beach towel.

Jekyll needs help. While the unspoiled beaches and undeveloped ocean fronts are as splendid as ever, many of the accommodations for tourists and convention groups are showing their ages. They need more than routine facelifts.

That doesn't mean turning the island into a cheesy seaside attraction or an exclusive retreat for fat cats. But it does mean making Jekyll more accommodating for all Georgians who want to experience what it has to offer.

Although Linger Longer and the Jekyll Island Authority have parted company by mutual decision, much has been learned and accomplished during their two-year partnership.

The public has clearly signaled that it wants better meeting halls and more comfortable places to stay. However, it doesn't want to surrender what makes Jekyll so unique.

That's a good place to begin the next round of revitalization talks.

Savannah Morning News

Egan: Enlist public in Jekyll plans
David Egan
December 15, 2009

I applaud the theme of the Savannah Morning News editorial "Don't give up," which is, as I see it, a message to the Jekyll Island Authority calling for persistence in renovating the Jekyll Island State Park and urging the authority to accomplish the park's revitalization without compromising Jekyll's special character.

With the abandonment of the partnership with Linger Longer, I believe there is a window of opportunity for the authority's board to try to accomplish this task in harmony with public opinion instead of in opposition to it, as has too often been the case over the past two years.

Involving the public in the planning process, rather than presenting the public with a plan already crafted, is what I'm referring to here.

One relatively simple way to do this is through surveying, which is a vital part of public land planning as practiced by professionals across the country and within the National Park Service. While costing time at first, surveying, in a public land planning context, typically proves to be a time-saver in the long run because it helps to ensure that the planning agency comes up with a product acceptable to those it is intended to serve.

Take, as a counter-example, the controversial oceanfront time-share project proposed by Linger Linger.

Prior to the credit market forced implosion of the JIA-LL partnership, that project was on track despite the fact that the authority had been given the results of a statewide survey of thousands of Jekyll visitors showing nearly unanimous opposition to time-share and/or condominium construction along Jekyll's currently unobstructed beachfront land.

Even the authority's own 2006 guest survey showed that only 4 percent of the more than 2,600 visitors surveyed favored the construction of more condos and private residences on the island. In remaining a key part of the town center plan, that project, unfortunately, served to cast doubt on the authority's willingness to listen to the public whose interests it was appointed to serve.

Now, with Linger Longer out of the picture, it remains unclear as to whether the authority will persist with the oceanfront time-share/condo project pushed by Linger Longer or scrap that idea and focus instead on what is needed most in Jekyll's makeover, which is the reconstruction of those hotels that have been demolished or have fallen into disrepair, and the modernization of Jekyll's convention facility and accompanying amenities.

Put simply, planning for the future of Jekyll Island State Park requires an understanding of and appreciation for what its customer base thinks. The people of Georgia are, after all, the citizen-owners of the state park. Their interests are the ones that must be served above all others.

David Egan is co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island State Park.