Owner, with her husband Lannie Jarrell, of the Tybee Wedding Chapel and the property management firm, Oceanfront Cottage Rentals.
The wedding chapel is located on 1114 Highway 80, Tybee Island.
Oceanfront Cottage Rentals, with 108 rental houses, is located at 717 1st Street/Highway 80 on Tybee. She’s run the property rental business for 17 years and the wedding chapel for two.
“My mother, Evelyn Ballinger, 87. She works fulltime renovating a historic hotel and managing a pine tree plantation in Pearson, Ga.”
Also her step-son, Brad Jarrell, 24, who works at Ace Hardware on Wilmington Island.
In addition, “I consider my children to be my office staff. A lot of them have been with me 10 to 12 years.”
Jarrell on May 9 got permission from the Tybee Island City Council to build a $400,000 addition to her wedding chapel.
“We are trying to build a grand ballroom that will also double as a mini-convention center for Tybee. It will be one big room, 2,800 square feet, bigger than the original chapel,” which is 1,800 square feet.
Construction at the chapel will begin in November. When the addition is finished, probably in February 2014, the chapel, the new ballroom/mini-convention center and additions Jarrell has made to the chapel will total 7,800 square feet.
“Occupancy (of the wedding chapel) now is 180 people. For the convention center, too, it will be 388.
“For weddings, it will be close to 280 with the DJ and dance space… There will be parking for 99 cars.”
why a grand ballroom/mini-convention center
Tybee needs a convention center.” Also, from talking to caterers and others, Jarrell realized she was missing a lot of big weddings.
“We’d like to have a grand ballroom so the chapel can be an-all-in-one venue for large and small, fabulous weddings.”
history of the wedding chapel
“It was built (for the Walt Disney movie) ‘The Last Song,’ starring Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth.”
The movie was filmed on Tybee and in Savannah in 2009.
Originally the chapel “was over near AJ’s (restaurant)” on Tybee’s south side. The movie set was designed “as a small, 1908 Southern Baptist chapel.” Jarrell bought the chapel for $10,000 in May 2010 and had it moved to a commercial lot on Highway 80 on the north side of Tybee.
Initially, the Tybee Island Historical Society, which owns the Tybee Lighthouse, planned to buy the chapel.
“The chapel was negotiated between the Lighthouse and Disney.”
But during the society’s negotiations, a historic cottage next to the Tybee Market came up for sale because the grocery store planned an expansion to the neighboring lot.
“They (the society members) are preservationists. They had a choice. They could take the raised cottage or they could take the movie set” and locate it next to their lighthouse. They chose the cottage.
Jarrell had been talking to historical society executive director Cullen Chambers about turning the movie set into a wedding chapel next to the lighthouse. Some of her Oceanfront Cottage renters had been trying to hold weddings in Jarrell’s houses, “which is against city zoning.”
“I had been promoting Tybee as a wedding destination. Because of (the chapel) I thought we’d finally have a place (at the Lighthouse) to have a wedding and bring people to Tybee.
Then, in March 2010, “I get the call from Cullen Chambers. He said the Lighthouse couldn’t take the chapel.”
Initially, Jarrell had trouble financing her effort to buy the chapel.
“I went to SunTrust Bank. They said we didn’t need to open another business. I went to First Chatham Bank. They were telling me ‘No’ when Wendy Jeffers with (the Savannah office of the) Small Business Assistance Corp. walked in.
Wendy said, “Let’s go back to my office.”
“I met the staff at the Small Business Development Center and we wrote the loan in two weeks and Suntrust did finance it. Then First Chatham financed my lot” next to Highway 80 for the chapel project “and they will finance my next lot” for the grand ballroom/mini-convention center.
“They (the SBDC) thought that if Tybee could become a wedding destination we could lead the town out of the recession. That was our vision.”
“We couldn’t move the chapel until we met code.”
This wasn’t easy.
“We didn’t know what we were doing. We just wanted a wedding chapel.”
After she moved the chapel, Jarrell still had to meet more city building codes, international meeting place codes and rules from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
To make it hurricane-safe, she had to retrofit chapel exterior walls of lumber with Hardy Board, “very expensive concrete board.” She also had to build “a $38,000 handicapped ramp.”
In trying to renovate the chapel, she ran out of money “about seven times. It was a lot more expensive than we thought. We did it (anyway). We did it because Oceanfront Cottage could help us” with money for the renovation.
“Eight staff in the office, three in maintenance, as many as 50 seasonal workers in housekeeping and two part-time staff at the chapel.
The chapel’s director of events, Raymond Anaya “has received five-star reviews” from two Internet bridal planning sites, WeddingWire.com and TheKnot.com in 2011 and 2012.
Also, “we won Small Business of the Year this year from the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce.”
how she started her first business
“I started Oceanfront Cottage after a divorce on Jan. 3, 1997. I owned two houses on Tybee, one an oceanfront cottage at the end of Strand Avenue right on the beach, the other a little house on Butler.”
why we’re successful
“I’m a visionary. When I opened my (first) company, I had a vision that it needed to be a top-line company.
“We care about the oceanfront cottage owners and the wedding parties. You don’t have the kind of reviews (Jarrell and Anaya have had) unless you care.”
one more reason for success
“There’s a lot of talent in the area in the wedding business: musicians, caterers, florists, wedding planners. BleuBelle Bridal in 12 Oaks does wedding gowns. There are makeup stylists, all very talented.”
In addition, “People are Miley Cyrus fans. They come from every where to look at the chapel. The Girl Scouts come. They all watched Hannah Montana (Cyrus’ starring role in the hit Disney show) growing up … We’ve had weddings from Ireland, from Sweden and there was a bride from Japan. She flew in with her five bridal gowns, (including) her arrival dress.”
‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.’ And ‘Dream big.’”
tips for other business operators
“Stay true to the honor system. Hire an excellent office manager. Treat your employees as if they were your family.”
things to avoid
“You have to keep focused on your business plan…You have to have high standards and really good employees that care. It’s much easier to be mediocre.”
why work in the Savannah area
“I came on a camping trip (from her hometown of Pearson) in 10th grade and I knew I would move to Savannah. I’m here because it’s got the proximity to the historic area and the beautiful beaches and those wonderful estuaries.
“Our guests love it, too. They come to relax, get rejuvenated — and not have to dress up … Guests discover how easy it is to drive to historic Savannah. And the chapel is an all-in-one venue, and it’s beautifully maintained. It’s hard to find a corner in this building where you can’t take a pretty picture.”
mission statement for the cottages
“We want to offer true Southern hospitality with clean homes, excellent services and well maintained homes from one-to-seven bedrooms.”
mission statement for the chapel
“We would like to be the best venue for a wedding, cocktails and reception of any business in Coastal Georgia.”
Phone: 912-786-0054 or 800-786-5889.
Compiled by Lanie Lippincott Peterson