Henderson Withdraws Okeechobee Park’s Plan
After many months of planning and negotiating with county staff and state officials, developer Randall Henderson has withdrawn his proposal to build a world class RV park at Okee-Tantie Campground and Marina in South Florida, the Okeechobee News reported.
Henderson’s bombshell came during the Okeechobee County Commission meeting on Feb. 28. He made the withdrawal after a lengthy discussion in which he had offered a second proposal and commissioners brought up new questions about the proposed development.
To complicate the matter, there is now a second developer proposing a plan for the improvement of the park. During the course of the discussion there were several references by commissioners to a second developer, but no details were given. County Administrator Robbie Chartier later confirmed that another developer had submitted a proposal.
She said it came last week and had not yet been made public. However, she said commissioners had been informed of the new proposal.
Chartier informed the commissioners that the state has a reverter clause on the portion of the park formerly known as Hog Island. She said that if the county wants to lease the property, the state wants a specific proposal and a revenue stream. She said the state wants 50% of the revenue on the property. However, she added that the percentage is negotiable and they might take less if there are extenuating circumstances. About 220 lots in the proposed RV park would come under state restrictions.
Planning official Bill Royce said the state wants all specifics of a proposed lease before they would give approval.
“One of the problems is determining what comes under the revisionary clause and what doesn’t,” stated Commissioner Joey Hoover. There seemed to be some question about the legal description of the state-controlled property. Commissioner Hoover was in favor of determining what property was involved. “I don’t know how I can negotiate with someone when I don’t know what I am selling.”
“It would appear to me that biggest stumbling block is the amount of revenue coming to the county,” stated Commissioner Frank Irby.
They are asking for 50% of the 200 lots,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper. “It is a one-time cost to the county.”
Commissioner Irby noted that if the county came to an agreement with a developer and the state wanted too much money the county could back out of the deal.
Henderson explained his new proposal of a 50-year lease for the RV park and a 25-year lease for the marina and bait shop. Originally he had asked for a 99-year lease. He said his proposal included enlarging the functional public use areas. He said his proposal doubles the size of public use area and elevates the bandstand to make it more visible. “We have no desire to exclude the present population.” He said he was willing to leave the marina and bait shop out of his proposal.
As for payments to the state, Henderson said, “I think you have a very strong argument for not paying a dime. You are not changing the use, you are trying to improve it.”
Henderson said his proposal includes an outside loop road to provide direct access to the airboat launching area.
“I don’t have any other tools in my chest. We are trying to do it at a quality level. Disney didn’t cut anybody off by doing quality,” Henderson said.
“I really felt like if this project came about, it would help us through tough times,” asserted Commissioner Culpepper.
“I have some concerns about the financing and what interests would have to be subordinated,” County Attorney John Cassels said. He told the board that a private landowner could walk away from a similar deal that went bad.
However, he said the commissioners have a responsibility for public lands. He explained to the board that there is a lot more to the proposal than tying up public property for 50 years.
Commissioner Ray Domer said he thought there was a 3-to-2 vote not to pursue this matter. He did not know why it was on the agenda again.
“I think we should have to readvertise to protect the county,” asserted Commissioner Margaret Garrard Helton.
Henderson said his first lease proposal had been turned down. He said there was not a motion to rescind the action taken in June to work with him in developing the concept of leasing the park for private development.
“I happen to really believe in your property,” he said. “We want to bring you a quality facility. If you are going to prolong it, I would like to withdraw.”
“I withdraw without prejudice,” Henderson concluded.
Larry Gabor expressed his feelings over the board’s opinion. “This is a dark day in Okeechobee and I am ashamed of you county commissioners.” He said this was a project that would generate instant revenue and had been proposed by a man who has been successful in developing 31 other RV parks.
Winter visitor Marilyn Johnson said she has been coming to Okee-Tantie for 20 years.
“We don’t need an RV resort,” she said. “We just need a nice campground to be able to go fishing. I cannot believe you are not going to do something with that property that has the best access to the lake and the river.”
“We do not need that property sitting vacant,” expressed Chris McArthur.
“We’re not quitting,” said Commissioner Hoover. “We had one proposal on the table and the numbers did not come out right.”
Travis Chambers called attention to a park in Belle Glade that is inside the dike and is run by private developer. “We have the best park on the lake. It is by far the worst managed property on the lake. It is an opportunity missed in my opinion.”