Sea Island Resort Awash in Debt

The once-vaunted Sea Island Co. is awash in debt. The company’s downward spiral is a stunning tale of over-borrowing and over-expansion that collided with the recession  Some of Sea Island’s vast family-owned land holdings have already been split up, and the ripple effects of the company’s downfall will be felt along the entire Georgia coast. The company still employs more than a thousand people, and the money it generates funds everyone from fishermen to florists in this resort-fueled economy.

“Everyone, whether you live in Brunswick or St. Simons or Jekyll Island, will feel the impact if we lose the Sea Island Co.,” said state Rep. Jerry Keen (R-St. Simons). “Glynn County without the Sea Island Co. is like Atlanta without the state Capitol. It’s hard to imagine them not being there.”

The company, Glynn County’s largest private employer, controls the gated Sea Island community with its famed five-star hotel, the Cloister. The small barrier island is dotted with more than 500 private homes, which are called “cottages” even though they sell for more than $1 million — one (9 bedrooms, 9 full baths) is on the market for $13 million. The company also runs the Lodge at Sea Island, a five-star golf resort on neighboring St. Simons Island.

The island’s isolation and tony trappings have long attracted the famous and the powerful. Bill Gates has visited, as well as actors James Stewart and Lillian Gish. Former President George H.W. Bush and wife, Barbara, honeymooned on Sea Island in 1945. Former President Jimmy Carter and wife, Rosalyn, planted a commemorative oak tree on the island. Calvin Coolidge tromped around the island in knee-high boots during the 1928 Christmas holidays.