ORLANDO-Fearful that developers would snap up a virgin trophy tract 35 miles south of Downtown and 10 miles from Walt Disney World, the state Cabinet is buying the dirt itself, even though the price is on the high side.

Florida is buying the 88-acre Paradise Island from Lakeland, FL landowner Bill Ward for $4.7 million. The price equates to $53,409 per acre or $1.23 per sf.

Gov. Jeb Bush, a former Miami area developer, feels the price is high, especially since the state last year bought neighboring Makinson/Cypress Island for $3.4 million.

But Cabinet members argue developers would quickly buy the land if the state didn’t act because the tract already is approved for 22 apartments, two commercial marinas and 167 homes.

Ward, a watermelon sales agent, says he and his seven investment associates could have negotiated a higher price with private developers but wanted the state to buy and preserve Paradise Island. The dirt has been appraised at current market value of $5 million or $56,818 per acre ($1.30 per sf).

The Cabinet vote to buy the land was 6-1. The governor voted against the purchase.

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