|By Terry Dickson, The Florida
Times-Union, JacksonvilleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
December 8, 2009 --The Jekyll Island Authority has suspended contract negotiations with Linger Longer LLC, the development company that was to have built a new convention center, condominiums and a retail center on the state-owned island, the authority said this afternoon.
The authority and Linger Longer had been negotiating a contract since signing a partnership agreement about a year ago in which the company was to have invested its money along with state funds to revitalize the island.
Although Jekyll Island called the suspension a mutual agreement, The Reynolds Companies, Linger Longer's parent company, said it informed the Jekyll Island Authority it is "withdrawing as partner from the Jekyll Island revitalization."
In a release, Reynolds Chairman Mercer Reynolds said the company was "proud to have contributed both planning expertise and significant capital to a program that will benefit Georgians for years to come,"
Authority board Chairman Robert W. Krueger thanked Linger Longer and authority representatives for their efforts in working toward a goal he called unachievable in today's marketplace.
Jekyll Island Authority Executive Director Jones Hooks said the economy played a role in bringing the contract negotiations to an end.
"The economy has created much uncertainty. In my 30 plus years in community and economic development, I have not seen things so bad," he said.
Reynolds also cited the economy and said the economic uncertainty imposes difficulty on a workable development schedule.
But Hooks asserted the authority will go forward with the project by splitting it up among several developers, which should make financing more obtainable.
The project would require $120 million in private funding and already has $50 million in state-issued bonds.
That approach also puts the authority in control of timing, he said.
The authority must bring new hotel lodging units on line as soon as the new 78,000 square-foot convention center is complete, Hooks said.
Jekyll Island is already moving forward independently to build the convention center and beach park and to complete road and utility work.
The authority is not changing its goals of two new hotels, 30,000 square feet of retail space with condominium lofts and vacation time shares. Gov. Sonny Perdue and the authority broke ground Monday for a new 20-acre Great Dunes park along the ocean.
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