Originally created 04/01/04

Sea Island businesses fear summit won't pay



ATHENS, Ga. - Despite reports that this summer's G-8 Summit will be an economic windfall for Glynn County's Sea Island, businesses in the area are not convinced.

According to Vince Farley, a retired foreign service officer who lives on Sea Island for part of the year, the increased traffic from journalists and protesters, along with the tight security for the June meeting, could keep tourists away and cause businesses in coastal Georgia to lose millions of dollars during what is typically a busy tourist season.

"This could be a potential disaster for the tourism industry," said Mr. Farley, who spoke to a group of about 75 University of Georgia students and faculty members earlier this week.

He was one of four speakers gathered at UGA to discuss the upcoming Group of Eight Summit. Along with a discussion of potential topics for the summit, the panel took questions from the audience and voiced their opinions.

The annual G-8 Summit, scheduled this year for June 8-10 at Sea Island, brings together the heads of state of the United States, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, France, Japan, Canada and Germany for informal discussions. Members of the European Union also attend annually.

The gatherings carry no official weight, in that none of the discussions or agreements are seen as binding in any way.

Even so, "this will be an important event, and the first time that it is held in Georgia," said another panelist, Gary Bertsch, the director of UGA's Center for International Trade and Security.

A large part of the discussion Monday centered on the impact that the summit will have on Sea Island, a small resort city on a coastal barrier island near Brunswick.

Though only eight delegates and their entourages are expected for the summit, the federal government is predicting that several thousand journalists and several thousand protesters will likely be in the area for the three-day event, Mr. Farley said.

He said that although the government talks of the potential for millions of dollars to go to businesses from G-8 visitors, Sea Island businesses are concerned that the summit will drive tourists away.

Mr. Farley cited the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, saying many Atlanta businesses lost customers, most of whom wanted to avoid the crowds and tight security.

Fred Cooper, UGA Foundation trustee and head of the G-8 Summit host committee, disagrees. He said no one has an accurate figure for how many people will visit Sea Island or how much money they'll spend.

He also said the federal government and the host committee are giving local law enforcement $25 million to help defray the cost of extra workers and longer hours.