Marina sublease to ERH confirmed, needs final OK

PAHOKEE — City commissioners at their regular meeting Oct. 22 finally affirmed a resolution they’d passed last year saying Pahokee will go forward with its sublease for the Lake Okeechobee waterfront facilities.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Courtesy of Mary Dobrow
A new security gate was being installed last week at the Pahokee Marina & Campground, part of the renovation project financed by state grants.

At the urging of City Manager Chandler Williamson, they tacked on a few changes to the terms of the document signed in October 2017 between the city and Everglades Reserves Holdings LLC, a private investor group whose investors were present in the room and agreed to them.

“A lot of conversation has gone on about the marina and what we’ve been doing out there for the last couple of years. There’s been a lot of renovations done at the marina.” But, he added, there will have to be more. “There have been some significant improvements and, of course, we could stand for some more. We know that. But it doesn’t look like it looked 18 months ago, and everybody in this room knows that.

“There have been some errors that require more funding,” the manager admitted. “I wish I had $15 million more to do everything but I don’t. But we’re doing our best to go back to Tallahassee in January and ask for more money again for this marina,” Mr. Williamson said.

As for the paperwork, he told commissioners he’d been advised the city’s sublease “package” — consisting of the document signed Oct. 10, 2017, by ERH partners and the city; the changes that would be made at their direction; and the city’s Resolution 2018-15, which the commission approved last year and it later affirmed that night, saying ERH is the chosen private sublessee — was set to be placed on the agenda of the Board of Trustees of the Florida Internal Improvement Trust Fund (IITF). The board consists of Gov. Ron DeSantis and the cabinet’s three members and is to consider this in November.

“The state is now at that point, Mr. Miller, to provide this to the governor,” said Mr. Williamson, addressing co-partner Robert A. Miller Sr., “but it is not executed. It is not legal until the governor and cabinet say, ‘You can lease all three parts to that entity’.” He mentioned that former City Attorney Gary Brandenburg, before he was terminated last spring by the commission, had suggested changes involving who would do the landscaping and items the city was not going to pay for, such as restaurant equipment.

Mr. Miller said he has over $200,000 worth of items in the building already, mostly from his restaurant in Everglades City that was destroyed in Hurricane Irma, the Oyster House.

Mr. Williamson stated that the former attorney’s last suggested change (Gary Brandenburg was fired in April) was that the deposit put down by the partners should be increased, but commissioners did not make a decision at that time. He said he would recommend raising it. He also told commissioners they had to act that night because “we’re at that threshold now” when the state needed a final answer on any unresolved questions to finalize the package that will be put before the IITF trustees.

Mayor Keith W. Babb Jr. said he thought the commission should have a special meeting the next day just to discuss any possible changes to the lease provisions, especially the payments due the city in years three to 10 of the contract.

But Mr. Williamson stated he didn’t believe they had time, to which the city attorney agreed. He said the crucial question was whether the city commission was going to stick with what it decided in 2017. “The resolution that’s in Tallahassee now essentially says that Everglades Reserves Holdings is the entity that we want to sublease to. Is that going to change?”

There was some mumbling on the dais but no clear remarks expressed. “That’s the part I need,” said the manager, continuing, “because, uh…” Just then Commissioner Regina Bohlen spoke up and said, “Then I make a motion that we just ratify the resolution.” Mr. Williamson continued talking, though, “…what Brad has explained to me is there’s certain parts of this lease that goes on their template and goes to the governor and there are certain prerequisites that we have with ERH that’s just in the lease that we signed.” He implied they were separate and the city commission could change its terms in the lease at any time.

(Brad Richardson, senior management analyst with the Department of Environmental Protection Bureau of Public Administration, and liaison to the Division of State Lands and IITF, is the state official with whom Mr. Williamson has been conferring.)

There was an extended discussion before they returned to Ms. Bohlen’s motion. In the meantime, City Attorney Burnadette Norris-Weeks, asked to clarify, contradicted Mr. Williamson. She said she believed the city’s resolution and the sublease were part and parcel of the deal with the state, meaning portions could not be tinkered with unless all parties agreed. The land is owned by the state, with the city holding a lease to it, and ERH, a limited-liability corporation, will be the private partner.

After the discussions of the sublease changes proposed earlier, Ms. Bohlen agreed to amend her motion to require an additional $10,000 in a sublease deposit, making that amount now $30,000, and to allow the city manager and attorney to alter wording as to the other provisions that the ERH partners and commissioners agreed on during the meeting.

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