Beachfront ice skating? Jekyll Island seeks offseason boost

AP News
Posted: Sep 13, 2015 2:33 PM

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — As tourism slows down this fall, Jekyll Island hopes to lure more off-season visitors with a new attraction: a beachfront rink that lets patrons take in sweeping ocean views while gliding on ice skates.

The island state park announced this month plans to build a $30,000 outdoor skating rink that uses synthetic ice — sheets of dense plastic that are slick enough for ice skating. That allows for holiday-themed skating without the need for a frozen surface in a climate that can still reach 70 degrees between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

Slated to open this November, the skating rink is the latest effort by the Jekyll Island Authority to boost visitation during the holiday months when business from convention groups and vacationing families drops to its lowest point of the year.

"Usually December, January and February are slow, slow, slow," said Jessica Bishop McGregor, whose family owns Maxwell's General Store, an island shop that sells everything from toilet paper to souvenir T-shirts. "I think it's an amazing idea. We'll have people coming from the surrounding counties just to do this with their families."

Jekyll Island was a winter getaway owned by wealthy northern industrialists before the state bought it in 1947. In recent years the state park has undergone a $50 million makeover to turn around sagging tourism revenues. A new convention center and beachside park opened in 2012. A new convention hotel welcomed its first guests in April.

Late fall and winter remain a challenge in spite of the new amenities. In the fall of 2013, hotels on Jekyll Island have reported monthly occupancy at 37 to 54 percent between November and January. By comparison, occupancy hovered between 63 percent and 82 percent during May and June the past two years.

The state authority that manages Jekyll Island has worked to add more holiday-themed attractions. Lights and decorations in the island's historic district have been amped during the last two years to enhance the park's traditional Christmas tree lighting the weekend after Thanksgiving.

This fall will include an outdoor screening of "Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

Details for the skating rink are still being worked out. But Jekyll Island officials say it will likely be large enough to allow up to 80 skaters at a time. Admission could cost from $5 to $12 — a range gathered from looking at other synthetic ice rinks from New York to Gladstone, Missouri.

Patty Henning, sales and marketing director for the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, said managers there are so fired up they will included skating rink passes in special Christmas package deals.

Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, said he was skeptical of the idea at first.

"I may be one of the only people on Jekyll Island who owns ice skates. I'm a purist," said Hooks, who was finally won over by staffers who wouldn't stop talking about the idea. "We think there will be unique elements here, the idea of skating out by the ocean during the winter — even if it's not 15 degrees outside."