New park marks first step for Jekyll
September 21, 2010
BY MIKE MORRISON
JEKYLL ISLAND - The opening Monday of the 8-acre Great Dunes Park along Jekyll Island's beachfront marks the first tangible step toward the revitalization of the state park's aging infrastructure, according to Jekyll Island Authority Chairman Bob Krueger.
"It's the first visible sign of the investment the state of Georgia is making in this beautiful place," Krueger, of Hawkinsville, told a crowd of about 200 people gathered at the park for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This right here is the start of many things good that are going to be happening on Jekyll Island, where it's all good."
In explaining why the ceremony started about a half-hour late, Krueger announced the second tangible step. In its Monday morning meeting, the authority had awarded a $30.6 million contract to Brasfield & Gorrie General Contractors of Kennesaw for the construction of the new $30 million convention center.
The Brasfield & Gorrie bid is 16.5 percent less than the project price, the authority said.
Planning for the revitalization began several years ago and was dogged by controversy. A single developer, Linger Longer LLC, originally was selected to carry out all of the construction, but the company and the authority parted in December, citing economic factors.
The plans were scaled back, to be undertaken by the Jekyll Island Authority and several private firms.
The state invested some $1.75 million in the park, which includes 145 parking spaces, a large beachfront pavilion, picnic shelters, restrooms with dressing areas and outdoor showers, said Eric Garvey, marketing director for the island.
The park eventually will extend south along the beachfront to the Day's Inn Hotel, south of the island's main access road, and will encompass 20 more acres as it passes between the beach and the proposed Beach Village.
Construction will begin early next year, Garvey said.
The Beach Village will include hotels, restaurants, retail space and loft condos. The entire project is slated to be finished by fall 2012, Garvey said.
Jones Hooks, executive director of the authority, said special care was taken in the construction of the park.
Bike racks were shaped to look like sea oats blowing in the wind, all lighting in the park is amber-colored and turtle-friendly, and an interpretive play area will feature an oversized sea turtle replica on which children may climb and learn about marine life at the same time.
"We tried to do the extra little things that will dress up the image of the island," Hooks said.
There were also plenty of kids around for the opening. Third- and fourth-grade students from Frederica Academy on St. Simons Island came early for an art project on the grounds and sowed handsful of brown-eyed Susan seeds during the dedication. Their reward was to go first in the lunch line.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center later released a small turtle named Bubbles in front of the beach pavilion.
To make room for the new construction, some things have to come down.
Next up is the demolition of the old convention center and the strip shopping center across Beachview Drive, Garvey said.
Both are expected to go under the wrecking ball next month, he said, and will be totally gone by the end of the year.
State Rep. Jerry Keen, a member of the Jekyll Island Authority's advisory board, referred to the scaling back of development plans on the island as he addressed attendees of the ceremony.
"This is a good example of what happens when the government listens to the private sector and the citizens," he said.
Upon its opening, Great Dunes became the most beautiful park in Glynn County, Keen said.
"Where else can you be literally steps from the ocean, with this beautiful grass, picnic shelters and grills?" he said.
Mindy Egan, co-director of the watchdog group, Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said the park represents a move in the right direction by the Jekyll Island Authority.
"It's really lovely," she said. "They did a beautiful job. It's a vast improvement from what they had planned two years ago, when the site was going to be timeshares and condos."
A major bone of contention in Linger Longer's original development plans was limited public beach access and parking, Egan said. The new development plans are better, she said, but not perfect.
"More attention needs to be given to day visitor beach access and to beach access for those living or staying on the north end of the island, where the erosion is so bad that there's no beach from low tide to mid-tide." she said. "They have to get in their cars and drive elsewhere to go to the beach."