Jekyll Island cancels 2021 Shrimp & Grits Festival

Lauren Mcdonald, The Brunswick News, Ga.
·5 min read

Apr. 21—Jekyll Island will postpone the Shrimp & Grits festival for a second year.

Jones Hooks, executive director of the Jekyll Island Authority, announced during the JIA Board's monthly meeting Tuesday that he and his staff have decided to push the festival to November 2022 in response to challenges that have not gone away despite the shifting nature of the pandemic that canceled the event in 2020.

Lack of sponsorship funding, transportation concerns and reduced commitment from Georgia restaurants, which are understaffed statewide and unlikely to be able to participate in the three-day festival, contributed to the decision.

"The key ingredient for our Shrimp & Grits Festival is our restaurants — restaurants from throughout the state," Hooks said. "Historically what we've done is we've had competition within the state tourism districts, and they have selected a restaurant that then comes to Jekyll Island to compete in the Shrimp & Grits Festival. I think it's no secret that restaurants are struggling."

Planning for the Shrimp & Grits Festival is a year-long process, with sponsors and participating restaurants and vendors signing on to support the event well before it takes place. In recent conversations, though, with sponsors and businesses, few have been able to provide a firm commitment because of the turmoil still created by the pandemic.

"We don't want to do anything that causes Shrimp & Grits not to be the premiere festival," Hooks said. "We don't want it to be lackluster."

The next festival will be its 15th annual celebration, which Hooks said deserves to be a "wow event."

"We are already looking toward the future, and in no stretch of the imagination should it be interpreted that this would be the end of Shrimp & Grits because that is not the case at all," he said. "But we do think it is a prudent decision to wait and hold the 15th annual in November of '22 rather than this year."

Other island activities are returning this year, though, Hooks noted, including the Fourth of July fireworks on Jekyll this summer.

In other business, the JIA Board approved a correction of funds totaling $179,372 for a GDOT error that qualified the Jekyll Island Airport for Federal Aviation Administration funding it received in April 2019 for the construction of its airport fuel facility. GDOT Intermodal will match the funds towards another project or reimburse the authority through another method.

GDOT allocated $252,404 to JIA in 2019, and the money was used to complete the purchase of an 8,000 gallon fuel tank at Jekyll's airport, which has since April 2020 sold nearly 14,000 gallons of self-serve aviation fuel.

JIA staff were recently notified that during an FAA audit of GDOT, three airports in Georgia were identified to have received funding for fuel facility projects that GDOT approved, despite being incorrectly qualified for the funding, said Noel Jensen, JIA's chief operations officer.

"GDOT is asking the Jekyll Island Authority to reimburse GDOT and therefore the FAA for that funding," Jensen said.

GDOT representative Colette Edmisten, an assistant aviation program manager for GDOT Intermodal, attended the meeting to offer more details.

A federal law regarding airport funding for "unclassified airports," which include the airport on Jekyll Island because it has less than 10 based aircraft, indicates that GDOT is not allowed to administer funding for an airport project that doesn't meet certain requirements.

But GDOT received delayed guidance from the FAA on this rule, Edmisten said.

"We unfortunately had to call Noel and say, 'We gave you these funds incorrectly, and we're going to have to ask for the money back since this is against the act, which in essence is against the law,'" she said.

Other improvement projects at the Jekyll airport completed over the past couple of years will not be affected, she said. But the fuel farm generates revenue, which goes against the federal requirements for the prior funding allocation.

Edmisten added that GDOT may, as a result of the mixup, be able to support future projects on Jekyll.

"We had a couple other airports in the state that the same predicament happened to," she said. "We understand you're interested in a new terminal, and we'd be willing to help you with construction of that terminal. And we would consider the fuel farm your local contribution."

The board also approved:

—An expenditure of $300,000 for the replacement of aging equipment for the JIA water and wastewater systems.

—An assignment of lease for Jekyll Beverage Center.

—The award and funding for revisions to the JIA code of ordinances and design review guidelines to Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood, Inc. (GMC), for $125,000, pending contract completion with GMC.

—An invitation for proposal for construction of a residential home at 5 Hayes Avenue, which would result in a transfer of the leasehold estate, pending approval of a final home design by the JIA design review committee and approval of the leasehold transfer by the board.

—The award and funding for architectural and engineering services for the new Public Safety Complex to Jericho Design Group, for $152,500.

—A request for proposals for permitting, licensing and lease/contract management software.

—A resolution in support of House Bill 81 FY2021-22 that would provide bond funding in the amount of $2.95 million for capital projects, including the construction, development and site enlargement for the Jekyll Island Campground Expansion Project.

—The award for sewer cleaning and mapping to Roberts Civil Engineering for $369,000, pending contract completion and legal review. The project will include cloud-based Google Earth video mapping and location capabilities.

—A request for proposals for the development and lease of the Jekyll Island Amphitheater.