County to replace Okee-Tantie bandshell at another location

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Commissioners addressed some issues involving the Okee-Tantie recreation area at their Feb. 6 meeting.

The county recently signed a contract with Bass Pro to develop Okee-Tantie as a fishing resort. Because the contract is for the county to sell the campground to Bass Pro, the county must address items that were purchased for Okee-Tantie with grant funding from the state.

Some items, such as picnic tables, have already been moved to other county parks. The band shell, built with a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will have to be dealt with. A major expense for the bandshell was pouring concrete for the base.

“You can’t move that,” opined Commissioner Brad Goodbread.

One option is to refund the grant money ($200,000), plus interest, to the state.

Commissioners agreed they don’t like this idea.

Another option is to use county funds to build a comparable bandshell at another county facility.

Commissioner David Hazellief said a band shell would be a good addition at the Agri-Civic Center. He said it could be used for the fair and other local events there.

County administrator Robbie Chartier said the county already has permission to build an amphitheater at Lock 7. She said that might be considered a “replacement” for the Okee-Tantie bandshell.

“I’m not going to spend $200,000 without permission,” she said. “I think we should send a letter and find out what is going to be required of us.”

“If we have to put it on county property, the Ag Center is a good place to start,” said Commission Chair Terry Burroughs. He noted the county has not yet gotten control of the vandalism at Lock 7 (recently renamed the Clif Betts Jr. Lakeside Recreation Area).

Commissioner Hazellief said they should “spend the money on our county rather than repaying the grant.”

He added it is also important to “let BassPro know we will get out of their way.”

The other commissioners agreed.

County attorney John Cassels said he has received the signed paperwork from Bass Pro, along with a $300,000 check for their option on Okee-Tantie.

The county officially signed the contract with Bass Pro on Jan. 16. Bass Pro now has 9 months from that date to develop plans for the site. Should Bass Pro decide to back out of the project, the county keeps the $300,000.

Okee-Tantie history

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

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

Okee-Tantie was conveyed back to the 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.

Okee-Tantie is located inside the Herbert Hoover dike with the Kissimmee River to the west. The original campground had two areas for RVs. The current parking lot has spaces for roughly 100 cars and/or trucks/ trailers.

The first time the county sought proposals it was for a lease of the park. Guy Harvey Outpost and Elite Resorts initially proposed a longterm 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 will 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 they can 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). The county will maintain operation of an area that will be designated for airboats. The leased property will still be owned by the county.

Guy Harvey Outpost and Elite Resorts want to purchase the campground area from the county.

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.

At their Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016, meeting, the Okeechobee County Commission adopted an ordinance which 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 9 months to develop plans for the site. If after 9 months, Bass Pro determine 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 percent of park receipts, with the rate increasing at half a percent every 5 years, for a max of the county receiving 5 percent of park receipts.

At their June 22, 2017 meeting, the county commissioners unanimously chose Bass Pro’s proposal to develop the campground. This was followed by months of contract negotiations between the county and the Bass Pro attorneys.

On Jan. 16, 2018 the county officially signed the contract.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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