PAHOKEE — The Florida Internal Improvement Trust Fund Board of Trustees — Gov. Ron DeSantis and the three state cabinet officers — approved the City of Pahokee’s sublease of the lakefront campground, marina and restaurant buildings to a private investor group on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
Gov. DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis gave perfunctory approval to the sublease, which the city’s mayor signed with Everglades Reserves Holdings LLC on Sept. 10, 2017, and had been awaiting state action since then. Three of the four votes, including the governor’s, were required.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein presented the two necessary actions to the board, saying, “Together this allows a new enterprise to come in and manage that marina for the city.” Gov. DeSantis moved to approve the 10-year sublease to ERH, with two five-year renewal options; and modification of the sovereign submerged land lease to Pahokee and a continued waiver of state fees charged to the city. There was no discussion or objection.
ERH managing partner Robert Lambert said he’d gone to Tallahassee to be present at the trustees’ meeting and that he answered a few staff questions but that the board had none. “It was rather routine.”
Afterward, he drove to Naples to celebrate with his two partners, Robert A. Miller Sr. and his son, James, at their new restaurant The Pearl. “Excellent prime rib. We’re going to have the same prime rib, I hope, in Pahokee shortly,” said Mr. Lambert.
Mr. Lambert said state officials are aware of the condition of the property, where improvements financed mostly by two Florida Department of Economic Opportunity grants have not been completed (see story on next page). “It’s still the status quo. There’s been no more progress. No more docks available, no fuel dock, no Wi-Fi, still an inoperative bathroom,” he said.
Mr. Lambert continued: “From what I understand, this is a done deal.
“Now, we do have to have some discussions with the city commission with respect to things that were not done under the two DEO grants. The docks are still in disrepair, and the campground is still in disrepair. And those were two major components of the two grants.” The Pahokee City Commission was to meet Tuesday, Dec. 10, so it was too late for them to request to get on the agenda for that session. That means any such discussion probably won’t take place until the new year.
Partner Robert A. Miller Sr., reached Thursday, said, “It’s been a long three years. We have been persistent with this thing, and there was a big holdup within the city itself, not sending the paperwork in. This should have been done a long time ago.”
His son James Miller, who runs the restaurant end of ERH, eagerly anticipates diving into the pile of work that still needs to be done before Pahokee’s new restaurant/campground/marina is able to open under the management of the partners.
It is to be called The Outpost, and it will be unlike anything else around Lake Okeechobee, they say. Asked whether they’d be able to get it open before the 2020-2021 tourist season, the younger Mr. Miller said: “Depending on permits, and how quickly we can put the kitchen together, it could be opened up as soon as a couple of months. But that’s a perfect schedule, and that’s if we get the permits timely, and the design of everything is perfect.”
There already is much equipment, furniture, service china and glassware, place settings and memorabilia inside the restaurant building, ready to assemble for the new space. What kitchen implements they still need, they can readily get, he said, since they just went through establishing an eatery there (The Pearl opened last August).
Permits will need to be obtained for some parts of the restaurant and bar space.
“Yes, it’s going to take a couple of months. We’ve still got quite a bit of work to do with the campground and marina, but we’ve got a couple of menus already planned and ready to go. It’s kind of like our old restaurant over in Everglades City (Oyster House), so we will pretty much have everything already planned out,” said James Miller, adding enthusiastically: “We’re excited to bring people to the lake, excited to bring people to the restaurant. The extension of the restaurant, the deck behind — we’re excited for the people that are going to dine out on that deck. That’s quite a view for them. There’s really not a view like that anywhere on Lake Okeechobee.”