Construction on the Home2Suites hotel wraps up this summer as part of the Jekyll Island Authority’s massive redevelopment plan. Photo by John McCosh.
Amid boom times for Jekyll Island, a former state lawmaker has been tapped as the new board chair for the state agency charged with managing the island.
Joe Wilkinson, a 16-year Republican state representative from Sandy Springs, was appointed board chairman for the Jekyll Island State Park Authority by Gov. Brian Kemp in July. His appointment comes as the island contends with resident concerns about new development, rising sea levels and the push to draw more visitors.
The agency reeled in $4.3 million from convention center bookings last year, up from around $1.5 million when the center opened in 2012, according to financial records.
Traffic to the island is also on the rise, up to 3.7 million visitors last year from 2.7 million in 2015. New hotels started replacing the worn, old-style inns in 2015, and more rooms are opening to guests this summer, including at the new Home2Suites hotel.
Like all of Georgia’s coastal communities, Jekyll Island is staring down the future threat of rising seas attributed to global climate change. Sea levels monitored in Savannah have already risen 9 inches since 1935, according to the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Sea levels might rise another 1.3 to 2.3 feet by 2060, according to the Jekyll agency’s 2014 master development plan.
“As the (agency) seeks to increase revenue through visitation, managers should be mindful that increased use, even for recreational and educational purposes, increases environmental stress,” the master plan says.
Sea-level concerns at Jekyll came to the fore in recent months as the agency reviewed designs for a six-building, 48-unit condominium project beside the island’s marina. Several people expressed concerns about the project’s vulnerability to flooding at recent agency board meetings, according to meeting minutes. An environmental impact report, prepared in March, found the condo’s risks from flash flooding and rising seas were greater “than any other residential property on Jekyll Island.”
The board approved designs last month and is expected to consider a lease proposal for the project at its Aug. 20 meeting, The Brunswick News reported.
That will be Wilkinson’s first meeting as chair. He succeeds former chairman Mike Hodges, whose term ended in June.
A retired Coca-Cola executive and U.S.Navy captain, Wilkinson was elected state representative in 2001 for the District 52 seat, covering Sandy Springs, and ran unopposed in all but one of the eight elections he won. He chaired the House Ethics Committee and sat on the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
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