Prospective developers like Jekyll Island Authority's plans

By Erika Capek

For the AJC

Developers who came to learn more about revitalization on Jekyll Island Thursday say they were impressed with the Jekyll Island Authority's plans.

“A great deal of thought went into understanding who the guests and the customers are,” said Micajah Sturdivant, director of asset management for MMI Hotel Group in Flowood, Miss.

More than 60 representatives from development and investment firms across the region came to learn more about the state-owned land during the Jekyll Island Revitalization Showcase Thursday.

The authority is seeking new developers after a split last month with private-partner Linger Longer Communities, which was unable to complete new hotels and retail shops by the 2012 deadline. It cited a weak economy and inability to get needed financing when ending its partnership with the authority.

The authority is working to keep up with an aggressive timetable for getting many of Jekyll Island’s revitalization projects done by the deadline.

“Revitalization is definitely underway on Jekyll Island,” said Jones Hooks, executive director of the authority.

The authority is looking for a new developer to build a full-service hotel adjacent to the new 128,000 square foot convention center. The board wants the hotel completed in time for the convention center’s 2012 opening. They hope to complete an economy and mid-scale hotel, as well as retail shops  in that time frame.

Mike Chatham, design team leader for Orlando-based firm of Helman Hurley Charvat Peacock Architects, talked about creating a destination that will reverse Jekyll Island’s tourism slump, which has fallen to 1.5 million visitors from a peak of 2.1 million visitors in 1990.

“The synergy created between the new convention center, restaurants and retail components will further secure the loyalty of those who already frequent Jekyll Island, and will help to attract those who have yet to discover its charm, with the goal of having all guests return year after year,” Chatham said during his presentation.

Wes Townson, vice president of McKibbon Hotel Group from Gainesville, came to the showcase to learn more about the revitalization project.

“I’m optimistic of the plan and overall, it has a lot of potential,” Townson said.

Most of the $50 million in public bonds, which has been secured and set aside to fund the state-owned portion of the project, will go toward the new convention center.

The amount of private-sector investment is expected to be at least $120 million, including two hotels, retail with condominium lofts and vacation ownership units.

Keeping on schedule with their plans, authority officials will assess and evaluate showcase comments and responses next week. Requests for proposals will be issued Feb. 12 with the authority considering leases by April 19.