Albany Rotary gets view of Jekyll Island improvements

Jekyll Island head of development speaks to Rotary members

Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, was guest speaker at the Albany Rotary Club meeting Thursday. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, was guest speaker at the Albany Rotary Club meeting Thursday. (Staff Photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Historic Jekyll Island is experiencing rapid and radical changes, with hundreds of millions in public-private dollars being invested in the park, said Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority.

Hooks was featured guest at the Albany Rotary Club meeting Thursday, invited for his knowledge of the club’s 2015 convention destination — and also for friendships built in the late 1980s and early 1990s as head of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission and the Albany-Dougherty Chamber of Commerce.

Hooks has worked as director of the Jekyll Island Authority since June, 2008, he said.

One of several “barrier” islands off the Georgia coast, Jekyll Island once served as a private getaway for the Rockefellers, Morgans, Pulitzers and other ultra-wealthy families. In 1947 it was purchased by the state for $650,000 to join the system of Georgia parks. But unlike other parks, Jekyll was to required to operate as a self-sufficient business enterprise, Hooks said, and so the Jekyll Island Authority was created in 1950.

As he spoke, Hooks presented a slide show of “before and after” pictures — sometimes artist’s renderings — of much of the improvements under way on the island. Illustrations included the “old power station” versus the present-day Georgia Sea Turtle Center and Rehabilitation Hospital; the original Holiday Inn against the new 200-room Hampton Inn Suites; and the Morgan Conference Center, which sits on the “ruins” of the old Morgan tennis courts.

An estimated $280 million in revitalization projects have been completed or begun since around 2007, Hooks said, despite the challenge of maintaining a legally mandated “balance” between total areas developed and those left “natural.”

Historically, Georgia law required developers adhere to a “65/35 rule,” Hooks said, meaning that a minimum of 65 percent of total island area must be left undeveloped and in its natural state.

“But how do you measure an island that is dynamic — an island that’s changing constantly with the sand shifts and with the marsh lands?” Hooks said. “When we went to different groups to assist with that, everyone would come forward with different measurements.”

Hooks said he dealt with the problem with “lots of public hearings,” to form an understanding of what 35 percent “really meant.” Ultimately the Georgia legislature deemed the figure to represent exactly 1,675 “absolute acres,” Hooks said.

According to Hooks, the Jekyll Island Authority is careful to build new structures only on the “footprint” of the old facilities, thereby sticking close to total area developed over the past 50 years or more.