Eric is the Senior Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Jekyll Island Authority. Jekyll Island was bought by the State in 1947 from those rich boys who called themselves the Jekyll Island Club. You know, the Morgans, Rockefellers, Goulds, Vanderbuilts, but no Smiths.
In case you didn’t know it, the State owns all the land on Jekyll Island, even the land that homes and hotels are built upon. They all pay rent to the Authority and when the lease is up, usually 99 years, they can take their building with them. Sure they can! Even the Jekyll Island Authority has a 99 year lease which expires in 2049.
Eric explains some of the issues surrounding future development on the Island, particularly the hotels. According to Eric, a new hotel has not been built on the Island since about 1972 and the present hotel buildings are outdated. As a result, the Island is losing tourists and money.
To build new hotels or to renovate the old hotels would require the Authority to grant the hotel operators new and longer leases. Since the Authority’s lease expires in just over 40 years and since the hotels want 90+ year leases, the Authority can’t grant them what they need to invest in new hotels. Or can it? I checked and it appears that after the initial 99 year term, the lease is automatically extended for another 40 years.
Another issue is what kind of hotel to build. Should it be the Ritz Carlton or Comfort Inn. Should it be cheap hotels affordable by all Georgians or should there be some high priced hotels? According to Eric, the goal is to have a mix of hotels with a mix of room rates that might attract a broader spectrum of tourist.
By law, 65% of the Island must remain undeveloped. According to Eric, the Island consists of only about 5000 acres, that means that about 1700 acres can be developed. (The statute creating the authority states the Island consists of 11,000 acres.)
The Authority operates the Island without any financial support from the State. That is why the Authority pays the State $1 for the lease and why you pay to even drive onto the Island. And remember, in addition to hotel tax, etc., they have a golf course and a water park. The Authority also runs a restaurant and other enterprises. There is apparently some criticism of the State operating such mundane enterprises and there is an effort to turn them over to private enterprise. Hmmm! That smells like a lease I would like to have–and everyone else.
So there you have it, the usual tension between development and conservation. Who gets the leases? Who gets to make tons of money? Do the sea turtles still visit and lay their eggs on the beach or do they have to get a room?