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Public land should not be for private profit

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POSTED: August 26, 2008 5:00 a.m.
As state senator for District 3, the rebuilding of Jekyll Island State Park has been an issue of great interest for me.
While I am an avid supporter of responsible reconstruction of this wonderful public asset, I have been troubled by the sizable gap between the general public's vision of an improved Jekyll and the vision put forward by the Jekyll Island Authority and its private partner, Linger Longer Communities.
Where most folks envision a park rejuvenated by new and reasonably-priced oceanfront hotels, a modern convention center/hotel complex, an enhanced retail center and improved public facilities, the JIA and LLC have been pushing the idea that Jekyll must have, in addition to hotel and convention center redevelopment, a beachside town center consisting of high-end condos, time-shares and a }commercial hub."
There is no need now to rehash the arguments offered in support of these competing visions, but given the fact that LLC is about to release its revised town center plan, the time is appropriate to offer a few thoughts on how to move forward in pursuit of a better Jekyll Island State Park.
First, those who have been pushing big-time development for Jekyll must stop mislabeling their critics as people who "don't want anything changed on the island" and must stop misrepresenting them as just "a handful of Jekyll residents." If we can drop the rhetoric and absurd exaggerations and accept the fact that the vast majority of Jekyll's visitors want to see their state park improved, then productive dialogue toward a better Jekyll may take place.
Second, the views of Jekyll's visitors should help determine the type and location of any development that takes place within their state park beyond the reconstruction of those oceanfront hotels that have been allowed to fall into disrepair. After all, Jekyll is public land, Georgians deserve to have a voice in shaping the future of a park that belongs to them.
Third, for nearly a year now, Georgians by the thousands have been saying that they do not want to lose Jekyll's currently unobstructed public beach to a condominium/time-share community. If this prized public land is to serve its intended purpose, the revised Linger Longer project needs to move away from the original condo-dense concept and toward a plan that allows for a modern convention center, a convention center hotel and a rebuilt shopping area.
Fourth, there must be a clear estimate of how park visitation and JIA revenues will benefit from the reconstruction of Jekyll's oceanfront hotels that will take place in the next few years, projects which stand to double the current number of hotel rooms and condominiums on the island. With this estimate in hand, the JIA can better determine if a town center is needed at all, and if so, what it should include.
Within the next few weeks, LLC's revised town center plan will be known, and we will then see if the JIA and LLC have listened to what the public has been saying.
As we wait for that announcement, I would like to reaffirm my belief that Jekyll's redevelopment should be based upon the people's vision of the future of their public land. If public opinion is heeded by planners, then the door will be open for a balanced reconstruction program that honors Jekyll's tradition as a state park set aside for the enjoyment of all Georgians, including the least privileged among us. In this way, Jekyll can be restored to its heyday without compromising the park's traditional character and without bumping the little guy off his public bench.

Chapman represents the 3rd Senate District which includes Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn and McIntosh counties. He may be reached by phone at (404) 656-0045 or by e-mail at jeff.chapman@senate.ga.gov.
 

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