Jekyll Island, Ga., delays second convention center hotel construction

After nearly eight years of planning and failed deals with two developers, Jekyll Island, Ga., is delaying the construction of a second hotel for its convention hub until next year.

The centerpiece of a $100-million makeover to energize low tourism numbers, the island state park's new convention center opened in 2012. Finding partners to build adjacent hotels with private money has proven more difficult, though Jekyll Island's main convention hotel, a 200-room Westin, opened at the end of April.

Jekyll Island officials say they still need more lodging to house big groups near the beachfront convention center. The Jekyll Island Authority had planned to choose a new private partner this spring to take over construction of a 135-room hotel that's been on the drawing boards since 2007. But a request for proposals submitted in February yielded only one bidder.

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At its monthly meeting last week, the Jekyll Island Authority's governing board voted to set aside the hotel project for now and solicit a new round of bids in 2016.

"There will absolutely be a hotel there," said Jekyll Island spokeswoman Meggan Hood. "It's only a little bit of a delay. We just want to make sure we're putting the right thing in that space."

The recession of 2008 took a huge toll on hotels and resorts. And it hit soon after Jekyll Island in 2007 rolled out its master plan for luring back vacationers and convention groups with a new taxpayer-funded meeting space and hotels built and operated by private partners. The first developer tapped to build convention hotels, Linger Longer, backed out in 2009, saying it couldn't get financing. Jekyll Island's deal with a second partner, Phelps Development, fell apart in February.

Consultants have told the Jekyll Island Authority the lodging industry has rebounded and should continue to see growing demand in the coming years. A report submitted to the authority by the firm PKF Hospitality Research said Jekyll Island will likely see more interest from bidders in 2016. By then the recently opened Westin convention hotel will have a full year, or close to it, of business for potential investors to consider. And pending sales of two other Jekyll Island hotels, once completed, should help the island "receive a greater level of interest" for building the new hotel, the consultants wrote.

"The belief that the lodging industry will remain prosperous in the near-to-mid-term has served to attract a growing number of investors to the marketplace interested in building new hotels," the consultants' report said.

Hood said the authority will likely solicit new proposals in the winter or spring.

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