Built for Speed
Larry enlisted a friend from his hometown of Calhoun, Vance Hughes, to form a partnership for the restoration of the Jekyll Island Club. "We both quit our jobs," Larry laughs. "He had a real job. He was a lawyer."
They took their plan to George Chambliss, who at that time was the director of the Jekyll Island Authority.
"This is great," Larry remembers George saying. "Iím going to put this out for (bids) from real developers."
"We thought we were dead," Larry deadpans.
But out of seven bidders, Larry and Vance were among the four finalists chosen. They won the development rights to the hotel, on one very important condition: That they have financing in place within 30 days.
"We thought we were dead," Larry deadpans. Again.
The local banks wouldn't bite, so they cast their nets far and wide, going home to Calhoun and across the pond to Paris, France. It was a serendipitous deal, in retrospect. Tax credits for historic preservation were at their most generous. So were rules regulating the use of industrial revenue bonds, sold by the Brunswick-Glynn County Development Authority. Long story short, the partnership found its money within the deadline.
The Evans-Hughes partnership made its first pitch to the JIA in June of 1984. They won the development rights to the hotel in December of 1984. They completed the $20 million project in December of 1986, when the most generous set of tax credits the U.S. has ever offered for historic preservation expired.
They were blessed with a dedicated crew of craftsmen who helped the investment partners meet a 150-day deadline to gut, redesign and complete the building. "They worked 10 hour days, six days a week, and on Sundays they'd bring their families over to see (their work)," Larry says. No small feat when you consider that most commuted from Savannah and Jacksonville. The carpenter who rebuilt the club's grand staircase came from Minnesota. That project alone consumed nearly $1 million of the budget.
A Happy Isle
Kevin Runner signed on as general manager of the hotel, which would open and operate initially as a Radisson Resort, in March of 1986. "I didnít plan on being here this long," he says. He is one of five original employees who remain to this day. "We hire happy people," he says. "Keep them happy, and they do a good job." Now a partner in the operation of the hotel, Kevin raised his family here.
"A lot of people told me when I got here that this would never work," Kevin recalls. Surrounded in his office by family photos that include children and grandchildren, he obviously proved them wrong. Since the hotel opened, it has expanded its menu of historic vacation options to include the restored and renovated Crane and Cherokee cottages, and Sans Souci, considered to be one of the first condominium buildings contructed in America.
There are few historic landmarks left these days that give families the run of the house, and promise a vacation worthy of a millionaire to boot. And to think that it might all be lost to history, save for a leisurely drive, a fearless pair of visionairies, and an all-too-rare episode of generosity on the part of the government.
Had a monumentally happy accident not allowed all those things to coalesce, "that building would be lost," Larry says.