Things are moving fast on Jekyll Island. Last year, the Jekyll Island Authority (JIA) got sued for a poorly executed (if not illegal) bid process. In the 2008 legislative session, Sen. Jeff Chapman tried to get the attention of the Oversight Committee to see if they would slow down the development plans of the JIA and Linger Longer, its “Revitalization Partner.” When the juggernaut appeared unstoppable, the law in the form of The Georgia Shore Protection Act stepped in to stop beachfront development. The skies cleared, the wind calmed and the ball sat in JIA’s court.
Then, on September 15th the Bleakly Advisory Group (the same group, I think, that handled the development bid process in 2007) revealed its report analyzing visitation on Jekyll Island. Needless to say, this analysis was greeted with some degree of skepticism considering the JIA’s previous conduct.
In this interview, Sen. Jeff Chapman, David Egan of Save Jekyll.org and Dr. Ken Cordell discuss the Bleakly Report. Dr. Cordell is a professor at the University of Georgia who is acting as a consultant to Sen. Chapman in evaluating the validity of the report’s findings. You can read his analysis, but his conclusion is:
In the title and in the lead paragraph of the Bleakly Group study, emphasis is on two things. First, development is described as an assumed future for Jekyll Island. Second, development is considered as the means of preference for increasing revenues. There are perhaps a number of solvent other options available that would enhance revenues and/or reduce costs. One could be hotel and associated improvements, but no new residential or commercial development. In the above review text, one model for taking into account the two primary goals of park management is offered—the Visitor Experience and Resource Protection model used by the National Park Service. The primary goals of park management, whether national or state, are providing quality visitor experiences and protection of park natural and cultural resources. VERP emphasizes careful consideration of visitor management and visitor numbers within a framework of carrying capacity. Increasing visitation and development dramatically can have significant and long-lasting effects on visitor experiences and park resources. Under current market conditions and fast developing trends, it is unclear whether new development would increase visitation. If visitation were increased to the forecasted levels identified as needed to increase revenues to between $45 and $50 million by 2023, it is unclear what the overall impacts would be. Interesting opportunities exist for further study of Jekyll Island options.
Then at a JIA meeting on October 6, 2008 Linger Longer revealed a development plan that is significantly different from the 40+ acre development it proposed last year. If you view the presentation Page 7 is entitled “We Listened and Learned.” Maybe so, I am not sure. The main changes are noted at Save Jekyll:
The project site has been reduced from 63 acres to 22 acres, and the cost from $352 million to $100 million.
The number of hotels has been reduced from three to two, with plans for the upscale 400-room hotel having been abandoned. The total number of hotel rooms has been reduced from 725 to 350.
The 277 unit condo village has been abandoned. If condos are included in the new plan, they will be built as loft units above the retail shops, and would be limited to 70 or so units.
Beachview Drive is not being rerouted as planned, but rather will intersect with Jekyll’s entrance parkway in a Y shaped fashion, without any loss of the current view of the ocean. This change in road design will necessitate amending Jekyll’s Master Plan, since 1.75 acres of undeveloped land will be affected.
No development will take place north of the convention center – the children’s playground and miniature golf course will stay where they are. The parking areas north of the convention center will be reconfigured and rehabilitated at the JIA’s expense.
The north (main) part of the convention center will be being renovated; the south part will be rebuilt. The total size of the new convention center will be close to that of the existing structure.
The 160 time-share units that were in the original plan are in the new plan as well and will be located between the convention center and the Days Inn.
Last, but not least, JIA presented a proposed amendment to the development plan which appears to be limited to making a nominal change to the entrance road onto Jekyll Island.
Due to what happened October 6th, this interview may be a little out of date, but even these developments do not insure Jekyll’s future. Whatever the development that becomes a reality, the fact remains that the developer, Linger Longer, is going to make tens of millions of dollars. With so much at stake it is regretable that the initial bid process was unfair and flawed. There will always be a taint on whatever is built.
There is also concern that the ultimate contract between the JIA and Linger Longer will give too much control to Linger Longer over all future development. That contract is being negotiated and vigilance is the watchword. Stay tuned!