County obtains rights to sell part of Okee-Tantie

OKEECHOBEE — The redevelopment plans for the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area moved forward at the Oct. 11 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission.

Okeechobee County Commissioners Tuesday approved a budget transfer of $525,000 from the Landfill Trust Fund Reserves for the purchase of the release of restriction and reverter of property known as Hog Island. The board also authorized the purchase of the release of restriction and reverter of property known as Hog Island from the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund of the State of Florida.

According to the staff report, Hog Island was conveyed to Okeechobee County by the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (TIITF) in 1951. The deed included a restriction and a reverter clause, stating that the county “or its successors and assigns shall never sell or convey or lease the [property] to any private person, firm or corporation for any private use or purpose, it being the intention of this restriction that the said land shall be used solely for public purposes.”

The deed also stated that any violation of the restriction shall render the deed null and void and the property shall revert to the Trustees.

In 1962, the property along with additional acreage was conveyed by the County to the Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District, who subsequently developed the property as the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area on approximately 100 acres.

In 1991, the South Florida Water Management District conveyed that property back to Okeechobee County. Okeechobee County continued to operate the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area as a campground. In 2004, the campground was heavily damaged by the hurricanes.

County commissioners now wish to explore options for the development and redevelopment of Okee-Tantie. To maximize the options available for consideration, the county requested a release from the deed restriction and reverter clause.

The Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund, agreed to release the deed restriction and reverter clause upon payment of the current market value of the restriction.

An appraisal was ordered and accepted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency that serves as staff to the Trustees. The Trustees then also approved the sale at the appraised value of $525,000.

This allows the county to go forward with crafting a Request for Proposals from Guy Harvey and any others who want to develop the park.

The first time the county sought proposals it was for a lease on the park. Guy Harvey Outpost and Elite Resorts initially proposed a longterm lease, and planned to rent the RV spaces to visitors.

At the June 9 county commission meeting, Guy Harvey representatives explained that after doing more research into the expense that the renovations will require, including replacing the utility lines, they determined that in order to secure the necessary financing, they need to purchase the campground portion of the property so that they can sell RV lots there.

They proposed to lease the area with the boat docks, marina and the main building (formerly Lightsey’s Restaurant). The county will maintain operation of an area that will be designated for airboats. The leased property will still be owned by the county. Guy Harvey Outpost and Elite Resorts want to purchase the campground area from the county.

This change in the proposal required the county obtain permission from the state, since the state still had an interest in the property.

Due to the changes in the concept, the county will also have to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) on the property and allow all interested parties to bid. The county can sell whatever parts of the property the county wants to sell, and specify the type of developer.

The bid would be for the highest and best use of the property, not just the highest price.

There can be stipulations in terms of protecting the county’s interest in the property.

County administrator Robbie Chartier is working on a Request for Proposals for Okee-Tantie development which allows the sale of the campground portion of Okee-Tantie. She said the county attorney will review the RFP before it is presented to the board.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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