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Jekyll Island panel picks new developer
Buddy DeLoach 201
Former Hinesville mayor and state representative Buddy DeLoach is on the authority. - photo by File photo

Jekyll Island Authority
JEKYLL ISLAND - The Jekyll Island Authority chose three developers Monday to take over key pieces of the state park's extensive makeover, which hit a snag six months ago when its main private partner backed out of the project.

Rather than hire another single developer to tackle all the privately funded components of the island's redevelopment - an investment estimated at $80 million to $100 million - Jekyll Island's board of directors voted to divide them among different firms.

One developer will design and build 40,000 square feet of space for retail shops in the project's centerpiece beach village. The others will develop two new hotels nearby.

State-owned Jekyll Island has been spent years planning the 46-acre redevelopment in hope of reversing a slump in tourism and convention business by replacing the island's musty hotels and outdated meeting rooms.

But the island authority had to scramble to get back on track after Atlanta-based Linger Longer Communities, the firm chosen in 2007 to develop the beach village, pulled out in December.

Both parties blamed the economic recession for scuttling the deal, saying the developer was unable to get the financing it needed to meet construction deadlines.

Jones Hooks, Jekyll Island's executive director, said Monday that bringing the new partners on board now puts the authority back on schedule to finish the village's retail shops and hotels by the time the island's new state-funded convention center opens in two years.

"In the summer of 2012 we will see the beach village ready to open," Hooks said. "We feel like we've been moving at lightning speed."

Construction has already begun on the state's $50 million investment in the project, which includes a new beachfront park that broke ground just before Linger Longer backed out in December.

For the retail portion of the beach village, the authority picked Winding Road Development Company of Scottsdale, Ariz., a firm that's developed resorts from Canada to Mexico.

To build the project's 200-room convention hotel, the authority chose a developer closer to home - Jekyll Landmark Associates, the owner of the historic Jekyll Island Club hotel. A second hotel of up to 140 rooms will be built by Phelps Development of Greeley, Colo.

Before Linger Longer pulled out of Jekyll Island, its 25-year contract to manage new developments had been widely criticized by residents, who said the deal gave too hefty a share of the profits to a private developer building on state land.

Van Hart, a Jekyll Island shop owner, applauded the decision to break up the projects among different developers.

"I think this is much smarter," Hart said. "They made a mistake. The authority never should've put all their eggs in one basket."

Details of the agreements between Jekyll Island and its new partners won't be available for several weeks. The authority board plans a June 9 meeting with the three firms to go over design concepts for the beach village and how they'll share management duties and profits from the new developments.

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