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.