It was standing room only in the Okeechobee County Commissioners’ meeting room Thursday evening in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse for the presentation of a proposal to lease the Okee-Tantie marina and campground to Elite Resorts Managers LLC and Guy Harvey Outpost.
“This proposal is a venture between Elite Resorts and Guy Harvey Outpost,” explained Ed Mayer of Elite Resorts.
He said Elite Resorts is involved with RV parks in various parts of the United States and also promotes music festivals at these parks. “We understand festival management,” he said.
He said their current proposal for Okee-Tantie is bigger than the one they originally envisioned, thanks to a new partnership with Guy Harvey Outposts.
Guy Harvey had recently planned to develop a resort on Lake Okeechobee near Pahokee. However, that plan fell through due to problems with the navigation channel there. Pahokee’s loss became Okeechobee’s gain.
“Guy Harvey’s market reach is pretty much second to none in the fishing world,” said Mr. Mayer. “Media attention will be brought to Okee-Tantie as part of the Guy Harvey world,” he said.
He said the plan will turn Okee-Tantie into Lake Okeechobee’s best public recreation and RV resort destination.
The development will create a family resort where the entire family can participate, he said.
“There are 8 million RVers in the U.S. and that is growing,” he said.
The plans call for:
• 370 new or rebuilt RV pads;
• 60 cabins;
• Renovation of the restaurant;
• Addition of a marina bar;
• Adding a 75-slip boat barn;
• Adding a 40-slip floating dock;
• Expansion of marina upland building with the addition of an amphitheater;
• Adding a 10,000 sq. ft. club lodge;
• Adding a splash pad, pool and sports amenities; and,
• Developing a beach lagoon.
The developers will need about 12 months to get the approvals necessary from the various government agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Florida Water Management District and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The design will have to deal with wetlands, runoff, elevations and other permitting concerns.
They hope to have the approvals by July 2016. After that it will take about nine months for construction before the park.
“We estimate at this point in time that the total investment will be $19.5 million,” he said. “The bottom line is that it could be more.”
The proposal offered to the county is for a 50-year lease with a 49-year renewal option. Elite Resorts and Guy Harvey Outfitters will pay all of the development costs.
For the first five years, the lease is $1. For the next 20 years, the county would receive 1 percent of the resort’s gross receipts. For the next 25 years, the county would receive 2 percent of the gross.
After the lease is renewed, the county would receive 3 percent of the gross for the next 25 years and 4 percent of the gross for the final 24 years of the renewal.
The county would also receive revenue from the Tourism Tax paid on each RV space. When the park opens, the tenant will also pay county property taxes and Fire Protection Assessment.
The resort could also create up to 160 jobs, according to the plans.
Mark Ellert, representing Guy Harvey Outfitters, said the plan is to develop the resort in three phases. The first phase will be done as quickly as possible once the permits are acquired, with the entire project completed within five years.
County Commissioner Margaret Helton asked if the developers will continue to invest in the resort to maintain and update it over the life of the lease.
“What we typically do in the resort business is provide for capital reserves,” said Mr. Ellert. He said they set aside a percentage of the gross revenue to a reserve fund.“We have to stay on top of maintenance,” he said, adding things like hurricane damage have to be taken care of.
Commissioner Terry Burroughs asked if local residents will have priority for employment.
“Our brand stands for sustainable resources,” said Mr. Ellert. “There is no reason for us to import people from other parts of Florida when people who have the talent and skill reside right here.”
Commissioner Burroughs said he thinks the resort will benefit Okeechobee businesses by attracting people to the area. “What I see here is help for these small businesses. We take the revenue from our seasonal business and try to stretch it 12 months. This could bring in people year round,” he said.
“I think we have the ability to appeal to a whole range of people,” said Mr. Mayer. He said the resort will draw the northern people in the winter and the Florida residents in the summer. “We can create functions and activities that would make this a destination even in that low part of the year,” he said.
“You have a unique resource in the form of Lake Okeechobee,” said Mr. Ellert. “You have a spectacular resource in the form of Okee-Tantie.”
Commissioner Burroughs said Okeechobee sits within about two hours of 14 to 18 million people in State of Florida. “The opportunity for businesses is extreme,” he said.
“There are so many different market opportunities,” said Mr. Mayer. “The lake is here. The environment is here. If we can get them here, they are going to have a good time. I think we have the capability of drawing them here.”
Commission Chairman Frank Irby said public access is a concern. He said the plans indicate the marina, boat ramps and restaurant would be available to everybody who uses it today. He said it is important for everyone to understand this project will take time.
The county commissioners unanimously agreed that the project should move forward. Mr. Mayer said they will give the commissioners a progress report every 90 days.
The Belle Glade Sun is published every Thursday.