Conventions Pull Out of Georgia's Jekyll Island Over Hotel Delay

Seven conventions, valued at $3.8 million, have cancelled plans to meet on Jekyll Island, Ga., in 2014, according to media reports. At issue: Sixteen months after Gov. Nathan Deal signed it into law, a tax break to promote Georgia tourist attractions remains unavailable to businesses — including the developer of a planned Westin hotel.

The 200-room Westin hotel originally was expected to open in mid-2014. Now, however, it has neither a start nor a finish date. Without it, groups say, there aren't enough accommodations on the island to accommodate attendees.

"Because of what's happening with the hotel, we definitely will not be there in 2014," Beth Brown, spokeswoman for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia — which holds a conference for 1,200 people every spring — told the Associated Press.

The Westin hotel is one of several revitalization projects underway on Jekyll Island, which is located off Georgia's southern coast, between Savannah and Jacksonville. Others include a Hyatt Place hotel — also delayed, according to Georgia newspaper The Brunswick News — a new convention center that was completed earlier this spring and a new 8-acre beachfront park that was completed in 2010.

"It's been a long and slow decline in tourism here," Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority that operates Jekyll Island, told The Brunswick News. "But we're already seeing it turn with our new park and new convention center. We just can't do it without a new hotel."

According to Garvey, the Jekyll Island Authority is in talks with the Westin's developer to determine how best to proceed with the project — without having to wait for the state to implement the promised tax incentives.

"The problem is timing," he told The Brunswick News, suggesting that both the Westin and the Hyatt Place will be moving forward "very soon." "Without a clear timeline, we've chosen to solve the problem ourselves."