JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. -- There’s a beachfront restaurant sitting empty on this state-owned barrier island, and the governing authority wants — actually needs — for it to be open and serving diners.
The College of Coastal Georgia was supposed to be operating the facility, Fins, as a teaching restaurant but advised the authority about two weeks ago that it was backing out of the agreement it signed last year. The college said it was so immersed in five-year continuing reaccreditation process and curriculum review of its culinary arts program it could not carry out the agreement.
Last week, the Jekyll Island State Park Authority sent out a request for proposals for prospective restaurateurs to open and operate the restaurant just north of the Jekyll Island Convention Center and Great Dunes Park.
The proposals are due by 5 p.m. July 15, and the board would consider adopting one no later than Aug. 18.
The authority had closed the restaurant in November and moved out equipment to get it ready for a takeover by the college that isn’t coming, Jekyll Island Authority spokesman Eric Garvey said.
The authority staff moved quickly to start the process of getting a tenant, but “we’re still not going to make the season,” Garvey said.
Not only will the new operator have to replace some equipment, the restaurant must also undergo a series of environmental health inspections, he said.
“They were supposed to up and running by January,’’ and the college had hired a chef for the program, but then began rolling back the opening date until finally canceling the agreement, Garvey said.
Coastal Georgia President Gregory Aloia attended the Jekyll Island Authority board’s meeting last week and apologized for having to cancel the agreement.
Board Chairman Richard Royal and Vice Chairman Bob Krueger both expressed their displeasure, reminding Aloia the authority had closed the restaurant to accommodate the college.
Fins’ closing is hurting during the high season as shown last week when a convention with 400 to 500 attendees were on the island and found too few places for lunch, Garvey said.
“There are other restaurant outlets. There just aren’t enough,’’ he said.
When conventioneers leave Jekyll Island for lunch, they aren’t likely to make it back in time for the start of afternoon sessions, he said.
But the cancellation hurts the college, too. Opening Fins would have given culinary arts students more hands-on experience in operating a restaurant and given the college a kitchen closer to its main campus. Classes are taught now in the kitchen at the college’s Camden Center, although most of the students have been from Glynn County.
Also, the culinary arts program has a good reputation.
When it holds special events dinners, tickets normally sell out.
Fins has a lot to offer with 6,000 square feet, room for 200 seats and unobstructed ocean view and an outdoor deck. Those who want can ride bicycles to dinner because a bike trail, which is part of a system that runs past all the hotels, runs just outside the restaurant doors.
“It’s such a great location. We’re hopeful we’ll get some great proposals,’’ Garvey said.
Also, with new hotels going up and more conventions booking, there should be more business than in the past.
The initial lease would be for three years and renewable in five-year increments after that.
The “no later than” phrase on the date for picking an operator means what it says, Garvey said.
“If we can move any earlier, we’ll ask for a called meeting [of the board]. That’s how urgent it is for us,’’ he said.
Terry Dickson: (912) 264-0405