Corps to release easements so Bass Pro plan can proceed

Posted 4/29/22

OKEECHOBEE – The plan for the resort arm of Bass Pro to take over the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area is a little nearer to reality.

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Corps to release easements so Bass Pro plan can proceed

Posted

OKEECHOBEE – The plan for the resort arm of Bass Pro to take over the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area is a little nearer to reality.

Okeechobee County Attorney Wade Vose met with representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, including an attorney from their Office of Counsel, on April 20.

“It looks like we have the matter of the deed that’s going to be releasing the easements in favor of the federal government,” Vose told Okeechobee County Commissioners at their April 26 meeting.

“It’s all been sorted out. Hopefully that will be the last snag before it all moves towards completion,” Vose said.

“There was an easement in favor of the federal government that was recorded in the 1930s in Palm Beach County,” he explained. “That encumbered most of the real estate at Okee-Tantie. In their digging, the Army Corps found three additional easements that encumbered other parts of the whole piece.

“This release is going to be releasing all four of those easements,” said Vose. “They’ve gone through it exhaustively and we don’t see any evidence that there are any more than that.”

Vose said none of these easements were ever recorded in Okeechobee County, which explains why the easements did not show up on the initial title search.

“There is no basis in Florida law back in the ‘30s or now to record it in a completely different county,” he said. “That area of Okeechobee County was never in Palm Beach County.

“There was a small piece to the west that was recorded in Glades County,” he continued. “It was properly recorded in Glades County because that little piece was in Glades County at the time. It since was moved by the legislature into Okeechobee County.

“There were two other ones -- an eminent domain judgment in federal court and another easement that was executed by some private individuals that owned a little piece. Neither that judgment nor that easement was ever recorded in Okeechobee records,” he said.

“I was informed by the attorney with Army Corps that historically this is not atypical for stuff from that area,” Vose continued.

“Nevertheless, I think we’ve got that piece cleaned out and we can expect to move forward,” he added.

Okee-Tantie history

The Okee-Tantie Recreation Area is located inside the Herbert Hoover Dike, with the Kissimmee River to the west.

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

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

Okee-Tantie was conveyed to Okeechobee 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.

The county sought proposals for a private company to take over the campground. Guy Harvey Outpost and Elite Resorts initially proposed a long-term 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 would 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 could 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) and purchase the rest of the campground.

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. The change in the proposal also meant the county had to go out for bids again.

At their Nov. 10, 2016, meeting, the Okeechobee County Commission adopted an ordinance that allowed the county to consider factors other than price when choosing the best “bid” on county property.

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.

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.

Bass Pro offered to pay the county $3 million, with $300,000 paid up front. Bass Pro then would have nine months to develop plans for the site. If after that time Bass Pro determined 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% of park receipts, with the rate increasing at half a percent every five years, for a max of the county receiving 5% of park receipts.

At their June 22, 2017, meeting, the county commissioners unanimously chose Bass Pro’s proposal to develop the campground.

On Jan. 16, 2018, the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners officially signed the contract with Bass Pro to develop the Okee-Tantie Recreation Area.

“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 its bid on the project. “We also feel that the strength of our company and its marketing horsepower make us the very best marketing partner to promote this great fishing destination.

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.”

Since signing the contract, Bass Pro added another $100,000 to the down payment in exchange for a contract extension. The option was part of the original contract.

Bass Pro's concept design includes putting in a second marina, which would be exclusive to resort guests. The existing marina and boat ramps would remain open to the public. Because this plan would require dredging, this requires USACE approval.  USACE began the lengthy process required.

In July 2021, USACE also found there was an easement on the property. “The Army Corps found this particular easement tucked away in West Palm Beach in 1938,” Okeechobee County Commissioner Terry Burroughs explained at the July 22, 2021 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission. At the time the county signed the contract with Bass Pro, they had cleared the title with the state and had no idea about the additional federal easement.” (It was later determined the easement was never recorded in Okeechobee County.)

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