Commissioners may rethink sublease for lakefront park

PAHOKEE — City Manager Chandler Williamson told commissioners at their meeting Oct. 8 that state officials have been asking whether they want to alter the city’s sublease for the lakefront marina, campground and restaurant to Everglades Reserves Holdings LLC, or ERH.

He said he’d been asked that repeatedly by officials at the Division of State Lands (DOSL). “They reviewed it for October, they held on to it; and they’re going to bring it back in November for that board decision with the governor and cabinet. They have provided a timeline, if you want to provide any additional language or any additional changes. They’ve asked that three times because they’ve looked at the leases and they want to make sure that the commission wants what was presented in Resolution 2018-15. If you’re still with those stipulations and language… everything stays the same. If you want to make changes, improve the lease, language, etc., the fee scale of the first year, second year, third, fourth, fifth years, you have that opportunity between now and probably the fourth week of October,” he told them, adding that he’d been told the subleases would be presented to the DOSL Board of Trustees in the second week of November.

Mayor Keith Babb responded that any tinkering would require a workshop, saying they would need a review and staff recommendations.

Commissioner Regina Bohlen said: “I really feel that that’s not fair, that’s not decent of us. This company has been here for three years waiting for us to get this together, and I don’t think making a change or changes — anything at this point — that holds this up even a day is even close to being the right thing to do at this point. I think we need to move that forward and get it done.”

Mr. Babb said, “I just want to clear this up. This is not coming directly from the city manager; this is coming from the state asking this commission if there’s anything you want to look at or change.”

Ms. Bohlen retorted, “We’ve had three years to look at it, though,” and asked whether the city already had signed a sublease agreement with ERH.

Mr. Williamson answered, “Our former legal firm sent a draft” with the commission’s resolution in 2018 affirming the terms of the sublease. He said the sublease was not an official legal document because the DOSL board must approve it first. There were changes made to the original proposal that was hammered out after ERH was selected in a request for proposals process in 2017, he acknowledged in response to a question from Vice Mayor Clara Murvin.

Mayor Babb directed that the manager send a copy of the sublease draft to each commissioner for their review, and that they respond through the city clerk. He said he then would decide whether there needed to be any special meeting or workshop.

Reached at his Tallahassee office, Brad Richardson, senior management analyst with the Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Public Administration, and liaison to the Division of State Lands, said:

“What was asked for was an updated resolution. Per rule, subleases to for-profit or revenue-generating entities have to be competitively bid. In order to ensure that the Division of State Lands and the lessee, the city in this case, truly want to move forward with subleasing the property, we require a resolution, which the city did but it was back in March of 2018. So it’s been a while, and we just wanted to ensure that the city commission, which may have members that have changed since then, is still on board before we actually move forward to try to get an item before the governor and cabinet.”

He said he had asked Mr. Williamson, presenting him the fee schedule they would present to the DOSL trustees, if anything needed to be updated in that resolution. “He had mentioned that the city commission may want to make changes, so it was forwarded to him because up to that point, he had not seen the draft. That fee schedule was based on the bid as well as a previous item that was approved for sublease back in 2001.”

Mr. Richardson, asked whether there’s been any oversight or inspections of the work done so far at the lakefront complex, responded: “Not to my knowledge. State Lands to my knowledge has not made an inspection of the site.”

In examining the sublease draft he provided, two changes to the original 2017 terms were noted. Under the “taxes” section, this sentence was added: “If the sublease becomes subject to ad valorem taxes, tenant may terminate and receive a refund of the deposit.”

In the “deposit” section, which states, “Tenant shall pay to city a $40,000 deposit which shall be forfeited if tenant fails at any time to fulfill the requirements herein,” the amount is struck through with “$20,000” jotted in the side margin.

Both of those changes were initialed by representatives of both parties.

The original sublease, witnessed by Gary Brandenburg, then-city attorney, and Jongelene Adams of the city staff; signed by Mayor Keith W. Babb Jr. and Vice Mayor Clara Murvin; and attested to by Tijauna Warner, then-city clerk, and Mr. Brandenburg; was dated Oct. 10, 2017.

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