Jekyll retailers wait to see where they'll be in future plans
But where stores will go is mystery
Georgia Times Union
By Carole Hawkins
July 27, 2009
A plan unveiled last week to demolish and redevelop Jekyll state park's town center will relocate its convention center during construction. But so far, there is no plan for what to do about a string of stores also fated for the bulldozers.
About 14 businesses, some which have been at the island's shopping center for nearly 40 years, will be affected.
Jones Hooks, executive director of Jekyll's governing authority, confirmed that plans to temporarily move the businesses are not in place.
"There has been lots of discussion, but no final decision has been made of how that's all going to work at this point," he said.
The site for Jekyll's new convention center will overlap land on which the shopping center now sits. Construction is scheduled to begin June 2010.
Unnerved by the time line, store owners are asking questions.
"We do have concerns. I just want to be included in the plans," said Marty Fender, who co-owns the shopping center's IGA food store and has been in business since 1973.
"We don't know how we'll work in the transition and nobody I've talked to really knows the answers."
Fender has also owned the Maxwell's Hardware and Variety Store next door with partner Butch Bishop since 1973.
"We've got everything from pipe wrenches to panty hose,'' Bishop said.
They also have caulking, seashells, T-shirts, bathroom fixtures, fishing gear and bicycles for rent and about everything else that a vacationer or homeowner would need in a hurry.
What they don't have is any notion of what they will do after the shopping center is torn down.
"Don't get me wrong," Bishop said. "We're for the redvelopment."
In fact, the partners agreed, business has declined steadily and their stores would likely close without the redevelopment.
Last week Helman, Hurley, Charvat & Peacock Architects, the firm that was hired to build a new convention center, beach park and surrounding roads on Jekyll, presented an updated village site plan at the authority board's monthly meeting.
The existing convention center and shopping center will both be demolished, and the architect plans to move the convention center's business to a revamped building in Jekyll's historic district during the 18-month construction period.
A similar arrangement for the shopping center was not made by the company because it is not in charge of rebuilding Jekyll's retail stores, said Hooks.
HHCP is contracted to build the parts of the village that are funded with public money, while developer Linger Longer Communities will build the village's private enterprises, which include new retail shops, hotels and timeshares.
Hooks said coordinating public and private construction has complicated plans.
"Linger Longer has a responsibility for looking at the retail component and deciding what the retail mix needs to be. We are not necessarily in control of all that," Hooks said.
Linger Longer must produce its construction schedule in December, according to contract.
Hooks said the authority wants to keep the shopping center businesses and will work with its two building partners to get a solution. A plan for the retail stores could not be coordinated until after HHCP established the site plan. But now that the plan has occurred, the authority wants to move quickly.
Hooks called shutting down the stores during construction a "non-option."
"It would devastate vacation business on the island completely," he said.
C.J. Jefferies, owner of Jekyll Realty, agreed vacationers need the services that he and other shopping center businesses now provide, such as pharmaceuticals and groceries.
"There are restaurants on the island, but not everyone wants to eat out every night," Jefferies said. "These amenities aren't what I would call expendable."
John Waters, who has owned Jekyll Pharmacy since 1974, said it's hard not knowing what will happen.
"We're going to have to have something soon because we're going to have to start planning for next summer," Waters said. "It's not going to be easy. We'll need to move all the store fixtures and merchandise and go through re-licensing."
Like other Jekyll Island businesses, the shopping center has suffered from a decade-long drop in visitors. Jefferies said store owners are generally supportive of the authority rebuilding the aging town center.
"We've all know this was in the offing and it's good to be at the beginning of construction," he said.
But shop owners are not sure what the June 2010 demolition will mean for their businesses.
"If we're not going to be here, where are we going to be, and at what cost?" said Jefferies. "Are we going to pay the same percentage rate? Will we have the same square footage?"
So far, no one knows.