New Ga. development deal sought for Jekyll Island

AP News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2009 1:46 PM

The director of the Jekyll Island Authority said Monday he'll move quickly to find new partners for a $100 million makeover of the state park after the private developer chosen to oversee the project pulled out last week.

As the board of directors for state-owned Jekyll Island voted Monday to formally dissolve their deal with Atlanta-based developer Linger Longer Communities, executive director Jones Hooks told board members he wants to start pitching the revitalization project to new potential developers by late January.

"Timing is critical," Hooks said. "We understand that timing is a major, major issue and it has to be at the top of our list."

Why the rush? State-owned Jekyll Island is footing the bill for roughly half of the 46-acre redevelopment, which aims to reverse a slump in tourism and convention business by replacing the island's musty hotels and outdated meeting rooms.

Jekyll Island broke ground on its first big project, a new beachfront park, last week. The next day, the island authority announced its partnership with Linger Longer, which began in 2007, was being scuttled. Officials said the sour economy had prevented the developer from getting the financing it needed to meet construction deadlines.

Most of the state's $50 million investment in the project will go toward building a new convention center slated to open in the spring of 2012. Linger Longer's part of the deal was to have a new convention hotel built by that deadline, and to have an additional hotel and new retail space underway at the same time.

While once a private getaway for America's wealthiest industrialists, the island's aging amenities have been blamed for tourism falling from a peak of 2.1 million visitors a decade ago to 1.49 million last year.

Linger Longer's exit from the makeover plans for Jekyll Island, about 60 miles south of Savannah, was the latest in a series of setbacks and controversies.

Critics blasted initial plans for $352 million in new construction, including 277 condominiums and an upscale hotel, as too ritzy for a state park that's required, by a 1950 law, to be accessible to Georgians of "average income." As the economic crisis deepened, the masterplan for new construction was slashed by more than two-thirds in October 2008.

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While few details of the island authority's plan for moving ahead without Linger Longer have been settled, the board still wants a convention hotel finished as soon as possible after the convention center opens.

"We all know we've got to make the best use of our time and move this process forward," board chairman Bob Krueger said.

Hooks said his planning team will begin meetings next week to start working out details of how they plan to move forward.

But he said it's unlikely Jekyll Island will look for another single developer, like Linger Longer, to take charge of overseeing the entire project.

"We're probably not looking at a master developer," Hooks said. "The economy has been such a negative force."

Instead, individual pieces will likely go to different contractors. Hooks said at least 10 developers had called to express interest since the Linger Longer deal fell through.