$1.7B Everglades Land Deal in Works

The United States Sugar Corp. is selling 187,000 acres to Florida for $1.75 billion, Governor Charlie Crist announced yesterday. The South Florida water management district’s proposal aims to restore the agricultural land in order to help preserve the Everglades. The proposal covers almost 300 square miles across four South Florida counties, and would include all of U.S. Sugars property south of Lake Okeechobee, including its cane fields, mill and railroad line. The two sides had been ironing out the logistics of the deal since Crist unexpectedly proposed to purchase U.S. Sugar Corp. at a meeting this past November. “The deal wasn’t because of economic issues and it wasn’t because of environmental pressure,” said Robert Coker, the vice president of U.S. Sugar Corp. “We’ve been consistently building new factories, plants and other facilities and we’ve been dealing with environmental pressure since the company started.” U.S. Sugar Corp., the nation’s largest producer of cane sugar, and its 1,700 employees would go out of business as a result of the pending deal. As a part of the “Statement of Principles” that was signed by both of the deal’s participants, the 77-year-old sugar corporation will continue to farm and manage the land over the next six years during a transitional period. A closing on the real estate is expected before the year’s end. “This deal is good for Florida, its good for America and its good for the employees and shareholders of our company,” said Coker. While the decision to preserve the Everglades has many environmental benefits, including increasing the availability of water storage and acting as a natural buffer for the South Florida communities against flooding, it is uncertain what impact the land acquisition will have on real estate developers in the region. William H. Holly, chairman & CEO of Holly Real Estate, a real estate investment firm headquartered in Miami, said that, “Any time a state takes progressive action and promotes progressive policies it is more attractive to businesses looking to relocate.” However, with the purchasing of U.S. Sugar’s land, the Urban Development Boundary, a line established by the local and state governments of Florida to prevent South Florida builders from establishing their businesses in certain regions of the Everglades, is likely to grow. This could lead to an increase in the number of development proposals by companies that are looking start up in the area.Regardless of the effect this deal has on local developers, Coker believes that “when the pages of time are written about this day it will be remembered as a watershed moment in the history of preservation.”