Senator: Jekyll bonds a waste
He says state should get more time-share profits

The Times-Union

A state senator monitoring Jekyll Island's revitalization says if private contractors would share a larger portion of profits from a time-share development, the state would not have to borrow money to rebuild the island's convention center and a beachside park.

The move would save $100 million from the state budget over 20 years in bond repayments, said state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick.

In a letter distributed to fellow senators Thursday, Chapman said the state should not sell bonds to build a new convention center and park on Jekyll Island. Instead, developer Linger Longer Communities should let the state have more of the profit from the sale of 160 time shares it has planned for construction.

"There's no reason for the state to take on bond indebtedness when it's not necessary," said Chapman. "Until these bonds are sold, it can be stopped."

Financial data published in December by Jekyll's governing authority shows Linger Longer will earn gross revenues of $163 million from the time shares. In his letter, Chapman asserts Linger Longer will spend only $46 million to build and market the units. Under that scenario, Linger Longer would pocket more than $100 million, Chapman said.

The Jekyll Island Authority will receive a $1.63 million cut from the sales under the agreement.
Because Jekyll's contract with Linger Longer hinges on the state selling an initial $25 million general obligation bond, withdrawing the bond sale would force a renegotiation, Chapman said, and a better deal for Georgians.

If Linger Longer were to make a 50 percent profit on its investment, or around $23 million, the company would still earn a profit margin that is well in excess of industry standards, Chapman said. A real estate representative told Chapman that in today's economic climate, a 10 percent return on a development deal is considered attractive.

But authority Executive Director Jones Hooks said he believes Linger Longer would walk away from the project instead of renegotiating.

If the convention center is not rebuilt, it will kill revitalization on Jekyll Island, he said.
"They absolutely wouldn't go for it. This is not the Linger Longer convention center," said Hooks. "It's something the whole park needs."

Rep. Terry Barnard, R-Glennville, and chairman of the House State Institutions and Property Committee, said Chapman might have a valid point, but agreed with Hooks that it was probably too late to change course.

"I think we have gotten the best deal we can get," Barnard said. "There is no one else knocking at our door."

Sides spar on future Jekyll plan
Residents are skeptical of the Bleakly Advisory Group's analysis



JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. - A built-out Jekyll Island State Park won't end up looking like a second Myrtle Beach, a public real estate consultant says. Compare it to Savannah's Tybee Island or to St. George Island in Florida instead.

The Bleakly Advisory Group presented a statistical analysis Monday that compared a redeveloped Jekyll Island, planned for 2023, with nine other island tourist spots in the Southeast.

The purpose was to show how planned hotel and condominium developments might affect Jekyll's visitor experience.

Audience members challenged the analysis, saying Bleakly should not have included land that is off limits to development, such as protected areas and marshes, when computing population and building densities for Jekyll.

For the past two years, Jekyll's governing authority has worked to rebuild the island's aging hotels and introduce new vacation condos to raise cash for state park improvements.
Bleakly told the authority in October it would need 4,100 hotel rooms, condos and campsites to attract the 2.6 million visitors Jekyll needs to make the park self-sustaining. Jekyll currently has 1,800 accommodations.

Bleakly project director Gary Mongeon presented a picture Monday of what the new Jekyll Island would look like.

Residential development would be the second-lowest in the list of selected vacation spots and would most closely resemble Florida's St. George Island at about one unit per every 5 acres, Mongeon said.
"This is one of the most relevant comparisons because private residences tend to have the most impact," Mongeon said. "They tend to be large and more spread out than hotel rooms or campsites."

As for number of people per square mile, Jekyll's crowds in 2023 will fall somewhere in the middle of the group, said Mongeon, slightly more dense than Florida's Santa Rosa Island.

Several in attendance questioned the analysis.

Bleakly used figures obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau, an approach that Mongeon said brought consistency across the 10 sites compared, but which also counted Jekyll's landmass at about 9,200 acres. Last month, the authority's own engineer, Thomas and Hutton, had calculated Jekyll's landmass at 4,152 acres, less than half the acreage used by Bleakly in its density projections.

The U.S. Census Bureau achieves a doubling of Jekyll's landmass by adding the park's adjacent marshlands all the way U.S. 17 into its total acreage. That makes the Bleakly comparison distorted, island resident Steve Newell says.

"None of the marshland can be filled or developed in any way, so this method ... is clearly deceptive," he said.

David Kyler, of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, said because by law only 35 percent of Jekyll may be developed, density figures ought to be based upon developable land, which is 1,425 acres.

Redesign of Jekyll Island village plan drawing early praise
Architects emphasize public areas and beach views.
Georgia Times-Union
By Carole Hawkins
July 14, 2009

JEKYLL ISLAND - An architect hired to design Jekyll Island's new convention center has kicked a few pieces of its surrounding beach village layout into some different places as well.

Early public reaction suggest the changes, which will give visitors better access to ocean views, maritime forests and public greenways, are all good.

Helman, Hurley, Charvat & Peacock Architects presented the latest incarnation of a new beach village plan during a meeting of Jekyll's governing board Monday.

The plan contains the same retail stores, two hotels, timeshare condominiums, a convention center and beachside park envisioned last fall in a design by project developer Linger Longer Communities. But it's organized to better emphasize the village's public areas, which are being constructed by HHCP under a separate publicly funded contract.

Today, Jekyll state park's entrance road ends at a convention center. In Linger Longer's redesign, it routed visitors straight to a hotel. HHCP decided both options sent the wrong message.

Now Jekyll's entry road will feed into a roundabout that overlooks a village green and a pedestrian shopping zone with a straight line of sight to the beach.

"What people remember when they come to a vacation spot is a series of visual snapshots," said Greg Bryla, landscape architect. "Probably now people will go down our main street just to see what's happening."

HHCP's design shifts the project's private components - hotels and timeshares - to the south, where they will still have beach access but are not at the center of public view.

It also enhances a beachside park at the village's north end with showers, rest rooms and public pavilions with grills.

The grassed park, bigger than in the original design, will be large enough for Frisbee, football and outdoor events and will feed into a rebuilt beach walk, suitable for bicycles and pedestrians.

Spacious convention center

Jekyll's redesigned convention center, also at the north end of the village, will be low and landscaped, with a small entrance feeding into the village shopping area. A main entrance opposite that shares a 477-space parking lot with Jekyll's beach visitors.

Today's convention center is outdated, said Mike Chatham, HHCP's design team leader, with only 15,000 square feet of space in its largest area.

The new center will have 50,000 square feet that can be divided into two or three smaller spaces as needed. Service areas in the back will conceal food delivery from public view. A lobby outside the main conference area will provide an ocean view.

Authority board Chairman Bob Krueger was quick to praise HHCP's plan. The state has committed $50 million to the project, which HHCP budgeted at $44 million.

"We feel this plan reflects what we would like to see for a revitalized Jekyll Island," said Krueger.

Absent from the presentation was developer Linger Longer Communities, which the authority hired last fall to develop the project's hotels, timeshares and retail stores.

Also absent was public criticism that has dogged Jekyll Island's revitalization efforts for years.

Island resident Steve Newell said HHCP's plan to re-nourish main beach dunes is a good idea.

"It's a great reversal to the shameless bulldozing of dunes that we saw in earlier years," he said.

David Egan of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, a development watchdog organization, also had positive words for HHCP. Though he wants to take a closer look at public parking and still finds timeshares a tough pill to swallow, Egan said he was impressed with the entrance design and was pleased the beachside park would be a state of the art amenity.

"We have to give them credit for working to maintain what Jekyll best is known for," Egan said.

HHCP will not use the existing convention center in the redesigned village and will refurbish the historic district's Morgan building as an interim facility.

Construction on that building and of the village's north beachside park will begin in December, Chatham said. Construction on the convention center will begin in June and should be completed by January 2012

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.

Jekyll Island going back to work on conservation plan
A conservation scheme has been stalled for nearly two years

The Times-Union
By Carole Hawkins
Sep. 15, 2009

JEKYLL ISLAND - After being stuck for nearly two years in legal review, Jekyll Island's governing authority is changing directions on drawing up a conservation plan for the barrier island's natural assets.

Jekyll Executive Director Jones Hooks said Monday he wants to get the planning process moving again.

"Sixty-five percent of the island is to remain in a natural state, so management of that asset is important," said Hooks. "The conservation plan would be designed to do just that, and I feel it's time to move it forward."

The Jekyll Island Authority has been brokering construction deals with private developers for two years to rebuild aging hotels and vacation amenities and reverse a 10-year decline in park visitors. But the board has long been criticized for not first developing a policy to safeguard plants, animals and habitat against construction.

There are 22 types of plants, turtles, fish, birds and whales on or near Jekyll Island listed as protected under state and federal laws, a September 2007 draft of the conservation plan reported.

After developing initial drafts, the conservation plan was sent to the Georgia attorney general in December 2007, where it has been under legal review ever since.

On Monday Hooks suggested a new approach.

Authority staff will seek guidance from the State Attorney General's Office as to how to craft a policy. A team of other stakeholders, including the members of the Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Conservancy, the Nature Conservancy and others, will update the plan developed two years ago. Then, staff would hire a consultant to come up with an appropriate management plan.

Hooks said the project got bogged down because the earlier draft contained pages of reference material on Jekyll's ecosystem, but no action plan for how to manage it.

Mindy Egan, co-director of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, had dogged the authority for 18 months to get back to work on its conservation plan. A ticker tape on the organization's Web site has been tracking how many days it's been since the authority last moved forward on the policy. It will stop at 671 days.

On Monday she thanked the authority for reviving the initiative, but also took a swipe over past inaction.

"This means the authority is going beyond just saying words like, 'We take our conservation mission seriously.' Now you're finally taking action," she said.

Despite the delay, both Egan and Hooks agreed it isn't too late for a conservation plan to make a difference.

"Today with redevelopment, we're still in the design phase. It's not too far out of sync with what we're already doing," Hooks said.

Jekyll Island development is Linger’s no longer

Jekyll Island, Linger Longer end their development partnership

The Georgia Times-Union

By Carole Hawkins
Story updated at 11:57 AM on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009

JEKYLL ISLAND — One day after workers broke ground at Jekyll Island’s new beach village, the partnership that had conceived it came to an end.

Jekyll Island’s governing authority announced Tuesday that their partnership agreement with developer Linger Longer Communities had been suspended by mutual consent. The Reynolds Cos., Linger Longer’s parent company, stated it differently, saying it had released Jekyll Island from its obligation.

Both sides cited the uncertain economy as preventing Linger Longer from providing the authority with the construction schedule it required.

The deal would have allowed Linger Longer to build two hotels with 350 rooms between them, 160 time share units, and retail shops at a beach village it designed two years ago. It also would have given the company first rights to manage all commercial redevelopment at the park for the next 25 years.

The announcement of the scuttled deal came one day after Gov. Sonny Perdue and the authority broke ground for the 20-acre Great Dunes park overlooking the ocean.

Jekyll Marketing Director Eric Garvey  said the authority will continue its part of the project as planned, which includes building a new beachside park, convention center and entrance roads.

It will seek other developers to build Linger Longer’s portion. Everything is still expected to be finished by 2012 and Garvey brushed aside implications the project had gotten off track.

“We’re not behind schedule. We’ve progressed,” he said.

The state secured $50 million  in bonds for its portion of the project early this year and the authority believes that will attract the private investment needed to finish the project, Garvey said.

If the authority’s plans have remained on track, it would appear Linger Longer’s didn’t and that the inability to secure funding in a tight credit market was to blame.

A year-old contract with the authority stated Linger Longer would submit its construction timeline this month and begin building in January.

A draft amendment brought before the authority board in October would have extended that deadline two to four years if the company could not find financing. It also shifted responsibility for half of the new shopping district to the authority. The authority never voted on the amendment.

Garvey said uncertainty in the economy and Linger Longer’s inability to produce a timeline the authority could agree with ended the partnership.

Mercer Reynolds , chairman of Linger Longer’s parent company, also said in a news release that an uncertain economy made it difficult to arrive at a workable development schedule.

Jekyll’s existing retail stores will move into temporary facilities in the spring while the convention center is built. The authority wants new stores and a convention hotel ready when the new convention center opens.

“The retail stores are a very important amenity for our guests and this construction will affect some real business people here,” Garvey said. “We had to have a certain timeline. … If we break the project into smaller components, we feel certain we can attract the expertise to build what we need.”

Ending the partnership and bidding out individual projects is exactly what state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick , proposed to the authority a month ago when he first heard of the contract amendment.

“I am very grateful they have decided to go about it in this manner,” Chapman said by phone Tuesday. “I think there are a lot of companies out there that would appreciate the opportunity to bid on this.”

A year ago, Chapman had also opposed the terms of Jekyll’s initial partnering agreement with Linger Longer, saying it gave too much advantage to the developer and not enough to the state.

David Egan, co-director of the watchdog organization the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, also has said the deal was one-sided from the start. The authority had to pay for the cost of all infrastructure and a convention center, and make project management payments to Linger Longer for every piece of advice they gave, he said.

“It seems to me the Jekyll Island Authority has recognized they can do better with this revitalization without a partner by using individual contracts that are bid out competitively,” he said. “Isn’t that how the free market is supposed to work?”

This report contains material from The Associated Press.