The state of Georgia is blessed with abundant natural beauty, and for many of us, the barrier islands of our beloved coast are truly special. Jekyll Island is no exception. This state-owned jewel provides affordable access and opportunity to experience the best our coast has to offer.
Unfortunately, Georgians have slowly stopped taking vacations and bringing conventions to Jekyll Island as many of the commercial facilities have aged and become outdated. Visitation has dropped 23 percent from its peak in 1989. A few years ago, it became clear that something needed to be done to reverse the downward trend. A new course was set for the comprehensive revitalization of Jekyll Island. The goal is to replace the aging facilities with new, but do it in a way that protects the natural beauty, embraces affordability and establishes financial sustainability so that the island’s public amenities can be improved and enhanced for the enjoyment of all Georgians.
Gov. Sonny Perdue made the revitalization of Jekyll Island a priority in 2006, and the leadership of both the House and Senate pledged support. The Jekyll Legislative Oversight Committee was established to provide on-going oversight of the revitalization process and the island’s management. In addition, two legislative-appointed advisory positions were established on the Jekyll Island Authority to create active engagement. Together with the Authority, legislative colleagues from around the state have worked together to move revitalization forward in a way that is in the best interest of the citizens of Georgia.
In politics, it is easier to be against something than to be for something. To support an issue requires hard work to gain deep understanding of all sides of the issue and a willingness to work for the compromise that is so often required. It takes political courage to withstand the barrage of complaints and criticism that opponents throw at you.
The revitalization of Jekyll Island has taken some great steps forward with the approval of the final Beach Village plan and the private partner agreement with Linger Longer Communities. Several other hotel projects have also been approved, and over $380 million in private investment is now committed. In addition, the Jekyll Island Authority has adopted policy that will limit building height, density and further protect the beach and natural areas.
Through oversight and appropriate legislation, Jekyll Island will remain a special place with 65 percent of the island remaining in a natural state. The developed portions will feature enhanced public areas including a new, large “signature” beachside park that will provide beach access to all Georgians, whether visiting for the day or taking a family vacation. A newly renovated and expanded convention center will allow us to capture conventions — many held by Georgia-based associations — that currently meet outside the state. And the compromises made by the development partners will keep Jekyll Island an affordable vacation spot for future generations of Georgia families. Jekyll Island will be a model for restrained and responsible coastal development, and a model for teamwork among elected officials, state government and the private sector.
The Jekyll Island Authority and all those involved deserve to be congratulated for the progress to date. We are proud to serve in both oversight and advisory roles and participate in this exciting progress. However, there is still much more work to be done. We pledge to continue to provide diligent oversight and consent as warranted. We will honor the public trust, and work for the good of all Georgians in seeing that Jekyll Island revitalization continues and ultimately fulfills its promise.
Rep. Jerry Keen (R-Brunswick)
Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah)
Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons)
Rep. Roger Lane (R-Darien)
Note: Keen, Johnson and Williams serve on the Jekyll Island Oversight Committee. Lane represents a portion of Glynn County and is secretary of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.