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Is Jekyll Island really out of danger?
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Editor, On Oct. 6, Linger Longer Communities revealed its revised plan for a Jekyll Island town center. The new plan, at first glance, suggests a town center much different than the oversized and condo-dense beach village in Linger Longer’s original proposal, and closer to what many Georgians have been calling for during the past year. While the town center question may be decided in the public’s favor, the long-term future of Georgia’s only coastal state park, unfortunately, is far from secure.
The Jekyll Island Authority’s planning consultant, the Bleakly Advisory Group (BAG), recently presented a study designed to provide a framework for determining the appropriate level of future development on the island. While professional long-term planning for the future of the people’s park is needed, the authority has done a disservice to the people of Georgia by approaching this task in an upside down manner.
Instead of employing experts in the field of public land planning, the JIA hired BAG, a firm that headed the team that selected Linger Longer Communities as the authority’s private partner but has a serious lack of experience in public land planning.  Instead of focusing on how future development would affect the quality of the visitor experience, BAG focused on hyping the financial benefits for the authority from a growth scenario that would more than double the existing number of Jekyll’s residences and lodgings. Instead of asking Jekyll’s visitors what the future of Jekyll should hold, BAG excluded the public from the planning process, preferring instead to guess at what Georgians want for their own state park. BAG’s errors in methodology are matched by problems in the report itself.
The report says Jekyll’s projected build-out aims to produce a 20 percent rise in visitation when compared to peak figures of the late 1980s, but BAG calls for a 125 percent increase in the park’s current number of lodgings and residences, far beyond what is needed to produce the 20 percent increase in visitors. The study suggests that Jekyll’s build-out is small in comparison to development seen at other coastal resorts. BAG has missed the point here. Jekyll is a state park which, by its very nature, is different from other coastal vacation sites. Comparisons to heavily developed private resorts, therefore, are both misleading and meaningless.
In BAG’s vision of the new Jekyll, daily room rates would increase 7 percent a year to $240 a day by the end of the forecast period. Room rate increases of this size may look fine to the JIA, but are out of step with Georgia law mandating Jekyll’s affordability and would price the park beyond the reach of most Georgians.
The report accepts as fact the JIA’s need for $99 million to cover what BAG refers to as a financial “wish list,” but the items on this list have yet to be justified, prioritized, or proven to be cost-effective. Worse yet, BAG forecasts that the projects and infrastructure needs on the wish list could be funded by $100 million of revenue bonds, part of which would help cover the cost of private development within a state park. Are we now to believe that privatized profits and socialized costs are good for our free market system?
Add to the above concerns the possibility that the public-private partnership now under negotiation between the JIA and LLC may lead to what amounts to the privatization of Jekyll’s revenue-generating facilities, and we can see why there is cause for concern over the JIA board’s park stewardship.
Charting the future of a public asset as unique as Jekyll should be done by the best of the best in the field of public land planning, yet, for whatever reasons, the JIA chose to settle for less. The Authority needs to make things right by having experts review the BAG report and outline how best to manage and improve the park. Planners, stakeholders and elected officials must recognize the fundamental truth that Jekyll is a state park set aside for the plain people of Georgia, and that park planning will not be worth the paper it’s written on unless it serves this truth faithfully.

Sen. Jeff Chapman
3rd Senate District which includes Brantley, Camden, Charlton, Glynn and McIntosh counties.
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