Jekyll Island board asked to approve hotel deal
by Russ Bynum
Associated Press Writer
November 17, 2012 09:14 PM | 786 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SAVANNAH — Jekyll Island officials are close to a deal to help revive its state park’s planned 200-room convention hotel, which has been unable to break ground because of financing problems.

The Jekyll Island Authority board meets Monday and the agenda says members will be asked to approve new lease terms for the proposed beachfront Westin hotel. Developers planned to start construction in September, but they couldn’t secure a $25 million loan.

Details of the deal were unavailable and terms were still being worked out Friday, said Jekyll Island spokesman Eric Garvey.

“My understanding is that there are a handful of agreements that will allow the Westin to satisfy the requirements of the lender and be able to move forward,” said Garvey, who declined to comment further.

According to its agenda, the island’s board is also expected to consider new lease terms for a proposed 135-room Hyatt hotel near the convention center, which has also run into delays.

The Westin is a key piece of a major makeover of Jekyll Island’s tourism offerings designed to lure back visitors and convention groups who had written off the park’s amenities as musty and outdated. Georgia taxpayers have spent $50 million on improvements including a new convention center that opened in March. The Westin would be the main convention hotel next door.

Dozens of groups have already booked the hotel for mid-2014, though several pulled out after construction got delayed. Jekyll Island officials say that lost them at least $3.8 million in convention business.

Garvey would not comment on what incentives Jekyll Island might offer the Westin developers to get the project moving, or when is the soonest construction might start if a new lease is approved.

The Brunswick News reported Friday that draft documents show the convention hotel may get funding from the island’s new tourism development fund, which receives money from bed taxes paid by other hotels, and could also get a break on its lease payments as well as reimbursements for marketing costs.

Bob Krueger, board chairman for the Jekyll Island Authority, and Dave Curtis of developer Jekyll Landmark Associates, which is building the Westin, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Friday.

The developers had been counting on a tax break for new Georgia tourist attractions to secure their loan for the hotel. Though the tax rebate was signed into law in May 2011, state agencies say it’s too convoluted to implement. Gov. Nathan Deal is asking state lawmakers to amend the tourism tax break next year.

Garvey said previously that the Westin developers expected the tax rebates to save them $8.5 million over a decade, and that money would have been used to help pay of their loan.

Deal’s office has said the governor would have rejected giving the tax break to the Westin because it would be unfair to competing hotels on Jekyll Island.

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