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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

A sense of place for Jekyll Island and Provo

Courtesy Jekyll Island Authority

Kevin Udell knows that the Jekyll Island Convention Center is special, but even he was surprised by a Hilton Hotels executive’s reaction after a recent tour of the center on a Georgia barrier island.

“He said, ‘you have one of the top two centers in the whole country for beauty and functionality’,” said Udell, director of sales for the Jekyll Island Authority.

And that, says Udell, is what makes the center “a game changer” for the slim strip of sand, about 100 miles south of Savannah, Ga.

Jekyll Island was once the place Georgia associations migrated to for their beach meetings. That business waned as the convention center there grew old and outmoded.

The new center, opened in early May, is a dazzler, and not only because it is steps from the sand and surrounded by palms.

Through clever décor and design, it has a strong sense of place. Sea turtle shapes embedded in terrazzo floors lead visitors along their way. A large sea turtle mosaic enlivens a large patio.

Enlarged landscape photos, shot by local photographers, echo the scenes visible through walls of glass. Ground oyster shells and beach glass are imbedded in floors and sidewalks.

The features add local flavor. “You know where you are,” said Udell.

Advice from peers

To design its center, Jekyll sought advice from other small cities and destinations that had designed and built convention centers.

“We went to seven to eight convention centers in the Southeast and asked ‘What would you change?’” said Udell.

All said they would make their prefunction space larger. “They all said to try to have as much prefunction space as possible,” said Udell. “It is like the kitchen in a house — it is where everyone want to hang out.”

Another recommendation was to equip the prefunction space so it would work well as an exhibit space.

Simple and straightforward
Peers also told Jekyll officials to keep the center as simple and flexible as possible. They listened and created a straightforward floor plan.

The center is on one level, centered by a 45,000-square-foot ballroom/exhibit hall, which can be divided into as many as eight sections. There are meeting rooms at two ends of the ballroom/exhibit hall, 11 in all. Prefunction space wraps around the building and most of it has ocean views. All totaled, the center has 78,000 square feet of meeting and event space.

Flexibility was a focus
Instead of placing screens in the ballroom, the center installed hundreds of hanging points so that screens could be hung wherever clients wished. No permanent stage was installed; instead, the center creates stages to fit each meeting’s needs.

The center was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. Among its features is a reflective white roof to aid with cooling, an 80,000 gallon cistern that catches rainwater to be used for toilets and landscaping needs. Recycled materials befitting the area show up in interesting places. For example ,reclaimed Georgia pine was used for flooring in an event room.

More hotels in the making

For now, most of the hotels on the island are limited service and many were built more than three decades ago. The one historic hotel on the island, the Jekyll Island Beach Club, has its own meeting space.

By early 2014, there will be two new hotels adjacent to the convention center. By the middle of next year, a 135-room Hyatt brand select service hotel will open; it will be followed in February 2014 by a 200-room Westin hotel with oceanfront rooms.

The hotel situation made some potential clients put off booking Jekyll until 2014, but already, the facility has 200 bookings for the next four years.