It’s official: County signs contract with Bass Pro

OKEECHOBEE — The contract has been signed and the clock is ticking.

On Jan. 16, at 9 a.m. the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners officially signed the contract with Bass Pro to develop the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area.

Bass Pro now has 9 months to develop plans for the site.

“We believe that we are the most qualified partner to design, develop and operate a high-quality fishing resort on the most notable bass fishing lake in America,” Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops founder, wrote in their bid on the project. “We also feel that the strength of our company and its marketing horse power make us the very best marketing partner to promote this great fishing destination.

“For over 30 years Bass Pro Shops has been sharing outdoor passions through our nature-based Resort Division. From our previous personal visits to this property, as well as the many years spent fishing there, I believe our company is the absolute best long-term partner to develop the amazing lake front property known as Okee-Tantie.

“We are very passionate and serious about committing to invest our time and resources to develop this property in a first-class manner,” Mr. Morris wrote.

The proposal overview states: “Our vision, as detailed within this document, is to create a nature-based, fishing resort destination that offers all visitors a variety of world-class accommodations, state-of-the-art marina facilities for fishing and boating, and genuine world-class hospitality. With over 40 years of experience in the outdoor industry, we believe our guest service standards, coupled with the appropriate strategic amenities, will produce a vacation experience second to none for guests and sportsmen alike.”
Project goals include:

• To provide responsible stewardship of the Lake Okeechobee site and ensure that one of the country’s premier fishing and recreational areas continues to serve the public through education, recreation and growing guest visitation.

• To develop world class accommodations, amenities and services that are appealing and accessible to a broad base of demographic profiles.

Okee-Tantie history

In 1971, the South Florida Water Management District developed the site as the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area with a recreational vehicle park, campground, and bait and tackle shop and marina, and operated it until 1991.

At that time, the district planned to close the park, but an extensive letter-writing campaign sponsored by the Okeechobee News convinced SFWMD and the county commissioners to work out a way keep it open.

Okee-Tantie was conveyed back to the county by SFWMD. The popular RV campground operated at full capacity during the winter months until the hurricanes of 2004 substantially damaged the park. After the hurricanes, part of the park was able to reopen but a large area was heavily damaged and not rehabilitated. Occupancy and revenue began to decline resulting in a decision by the county to close the RV campground and bait and tackle store in October 2012.

Okee-Tantie is located inside the Herbert Hoover dike with the Kissimmee River to the west. The original campground had two areas for RVs. The current parking lot has spaces for roughly 100 cars and/or trucks/ trailers.

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, 2016, 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.

At that time, 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 to obtain permission from the state, since the state still had an interest in the property.

The county completed the purchase of the state’s interest in the Hog Island property in October 2016. This allowed the county the option to sell the campground portion of the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area.

At their Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, meeting, the Okeechobee County Commission adopted an ordinance which allowed the county to consider factors other than price when choosing the best “bid” on county property. It allowed the commissioners to choose the proposal they determine to be best for the future of the county.

Due to the changes in the concept, the county had to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) on the property and allow all interested parties to bid. The bid is for the highest and best use of the property, not just the highest price.

On May 16, 2017 the county received two proposals for the Acquisition and Redevelopment of Okee-Tantie Campground and Marina from Outpost Club Lake Okeechobee LLC (Guy Harvey) and Bass Pro Shops.

On June 19, 2017 the Okee-Tantie RFP Review Committee met and discussed the proposals and determined their pros and cons for Okeechobee. The committee appointees were: John Campbell, Don Fox, Frank Irby, Eddie Lehman and Wes Williamson. They were assisted by the county administrator Robbie Chartier.

The committee made a list of pros and cons for each proposal. They ranked Bass Pro Shops as their top choice for the project.

Bass Pro offered to pay the county $3 million, with $300,000 paid up front. Bass Pro then would have 9 months to develop plans for the site. If after 9 months, Bass Pro determine the project is not viable, the county would keep the $300,000.

Guy Harvey’s plan would have started with a lease for up to 48 months, at a rate of $1/year, followed by payments of $550,000 when the first phase was completed, and $550,000 when the second phase was completed up to 60 months. The county would also receive 1 percent of park receipts, with the rate increasing at half a percent every 5 years, for a max of the county receiving 5 percent of park receipts.

The advisory committee ranked Bass Pro first and recommended the county enter into an agreement with Bass Pro to develop Okee-Tantie.

At their June 22, 2017 meeting, the county commissioners unanimously chose Bass Pro’s proposal to develop the campground. In the months that followed, county attorney John Cassels worked with Bass Pro attorneys to finalized the contract wording and details, with proposed contract changes discussed at county commission meetings. Mr. Cassels warned the commissioners that nothing happens quickly with a company as large as Bass Pro. At the Jan. 11 meeting, the commissioners approved the final contract wording, and agreed that it was ready for Commission Chair Terry Burrough’s signature as soon as they received a signed copy from Bass Pro. On Tuesday, Jan. 16, they gathered in the county courthouse for the official signing.

 

On Jan. 16, County Commission Chair Terry Burroughs (seated) signed the contract with Bass Pro to develop the Okee-Tantie campground as a world class fishing resort. Standing, left to right, area Commissioner Bryant Culpepper, Deputy County Clerk Paula Poskon, Commissioner Kelly Owens, Commissioner Brad Goodbread and Commissioner David Hazellief.

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Powered by Facebook Comments