Amelia Island Plantation off the north Florida coast is bankrupt, not unlike Georgia’s Sea Island resort. A billionaire from Texas, Robert Rowling, has acquired Amelia Island at a court auction under the aegis of the Omni Hotel chain he acquired in 1996, presumably to spread some of the money he accumulated from selling our oil and gas around. Which is not bad. It keeps the money moving and oil and gas is something Americans like to buy. It makes sense for a fuel dealer to provide a destination for his customers to drive to.

Unlike Sea Island, I’ve never visited Amelia Island and I’ll tell you why. I first heard about Amelia Island from a close neighbor whose major interest in our community revolved around “protecting” our in-town neighborhood from the depredations of university students, illegal in-street parking and our periodic invasion by football fans. It was the latter which the neighbor took to escaping by booking a weekend at Amelia Island Plantation with her medical doctor spouse who (this was three decades ago) needed to get away for a bit of refreshment from the burdens of his all-consuming profession. Back then, though they lived modestly, doctors, unlike their colleagues in the liberal arts, could afford to splurge at a fancy resort. Which was fine. The other participants in the neighborhood association trying to keep our streets clear for ambulances and fire trucks and debris removal after the football fans left didn’t begrudge our “leader” absenting herself.

Indeed, I barely remembered the name of the fabled escape from which she regretted having had to return. Besides, for someone living in the middle of north Florida back then, the trek to the beaches, both east and west, was a driving chore that seemed increasingly worthless as the traffic became more congested and the waters of the Atlantic and the Gulf more polluted and lifeless. Then, just by accident, we discovered Georgia’s Golden Isles, almost two decades later, and our interest in the Atlantic Coast was rekindled and we drove down to explore the remnants of American Beach, a storied African American resort, which turned out to be located just north of Amelia Island Plantation, a resort with a gated guard house.

Sea Island, at that time, had a guard house too, sitting on the causeway connecting the upscale neighborhood to the more pedestrian St. Simons. But, the Sea Island guard house was only manned when some famous personage visiting The Cloister or staying at the Lodge (George Herbert Walker Bush, having honeymooned there, returned with Lady Barbara from time to time and President Eisenhower was honored with a plaque on a live oak planted in honor of his visit for a bit of golf). At other times, Sea Island, including its quaint Post Office was readily accessible to visitors who arrived on foot or horseback or in tour buses to “conspicuously consume” the cottages and gardens of the wealthy and a colony of artists. Driving to the beach was problematic because the beach access ways were posted for no parking, unlike the ones on St. Simons. But, the Sea Island beach was never much of a beach anyway and seemed to accumulate a lot of detritus that gets washed down from the Georgia mountains by the Altamaha and its tributaries.

In any case, the manned guard house at Amelia Island Plantation might just as well have been occasioned by the presence of some important personage. So, we inquired whether it would be possible to purchase lunch at one of their restaurants, presumably situated overlooking the ocean, like those at the King and Prince on St. Simons were Sunday brunch is a long-standing tradition after church. (Or was. That too might have changed during the last decade when Sea Island tore down the Cloisters and rebranded itself as an exclusive community). After some consultation by the extremely friendly staff and a phone call up to the resort, we were informed that, of course we could have lunch, if we left our credit card at the gate. What a clever way to maintain exclusivity! We decided to forgo the honor and drove off to find a plebeian fish joint. And that’s why I never visited Amelia Island plantation.

Sea Island is now advertising on the radio, inviting Georgians to visit and take advantage of special considerations. That is, they want our money now that they’re bankrupt and being sold out for pennies on the dollar.

Sea Island Co. filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in federal court in Brunswick. Court filings say the company is unable to pay more than $482 million in debt used to finance costly renovations and expansions completed in 2007.

Since the 1920s, Sea Island has catered to wealthy guests, celebrities and even presidents. In 2004, President George W. Bush hosted the Group of Eight world leaders’ summit on the resort island near Brunswick.

Ah yes, and just to be sure the privacy of our public servants would be protected, it wasn’t enough to activate the guard house. No, the press were all lodged up in Savannah, some seventy miles from the venue, so everyone could pretend that’s where the big-wigs were “working,” in storied, Savannah, of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame.

And so it goes. There’s one other item worthy of note about the Amelia Island Plantation sale.

At Thursday’s hearing, Paul Jorge, vice president and general counsel for TRT, said the company intends to pay the $67.1 million with “cash on hand” and no borrowings.

Good to know that another private corporation has $67 million just lying around. Though, that’s not likely to be part of the $837 billion we recently learned about. Though it might be. You never know about private corporations that are “closely held.”


Monica Smith

Monica Smith writes Hannah's Blog. Born in Germany, she came to the United States as a child, living first in California, then after an interval in Chile, in New York. Married to a retired professor at the University of Florida, where she lived for 17 years, she moved to St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1993 and now divides her time between Georgia and New Hampshire. (New Hampshire, she says, is always interesting during a presidential election.) She and her husband have three children and five grandchildren. Ms. Smith says she "learned long ago that I am not a good team player when I got hired at the Library of Congress, fresh out of college with a degree in political science and proficiency in four foreign languages, to 'edit' library cards and informed my supervisor that if she was going to insist I punch the clock exactly on time, my productivity was going to fall from being the highest to being the same as everyone else's. The supervisor opted to assign me to another building where there was no time-clock. After I had the first of our three children, I decided a paycheck wasn't worth the hassle."