KISSIMMEE, FL-In a complex land deal, the South Florida Water Management District can complete a lower-than-appraised $34-million deal on a pending 4,500-acre purchase near the largest lake in Florida if both the district and a private landowner agree to a land swap. The land is valued at $55 million, district staffers confirm for GlobeSt.com.

The district’s governing board cut the deal earlier this year and agreed to give the district a $34-million credit for the transaction. However, the district has to agree to give the landowner, the Speight family, 2,500 acres it owns off Lake Kissimmee in southeast Polk County. The district wants the Speight’s 4,500 acres as part of a watershed project in Glades County, agency staffers confirm for GlobeSt.com.

The district acquired 3,000 acres from the Speights in 2004 for $18.5 million or $6,167 per acre (14 cents per sf). The land is north of State Road 60 near the Polk-Osceola county line, about 65 miles south of Downtown Orlando. The district, however, needs only about 300 acres of the 3,000 acres it purchased. The 300 acres will be part of an ongoing $500-million state and federal Kissimmee River restoration project, district sources tell GlobeSt.com. The district would also keep 150 acres for public access to Lake Kissimmee.

However, residents near the district’s 3,000 acres in Polk County fear their rural lifestyle will be altered if the Speights start new development on the low-lying 2,500 acres which sits on a flood plain, area sources following the controversy tell GlobeSt.com.

The deadline for doing the deal is May, according to district staffers. If the land swap can’t be completed, the district will have to pay the full $55-million price of the 4,500 acres in cash, Glade and Polk County sources in a position to know tell GlobeSt.com. That transaction would equate to about $12,111 per acre or 28 cents per sf, according to area industrial brokers familiar with the project.

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