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MIAMI-In the largest conservation land deal of its kind in Florida, the state and Lee County have jointly acquired the 91,361-acre Babcock Ranch in Lee and Charlotte counties for $350 million. The purchase price covers 74,000 acres which will be used entirely as a permanent wildlife corridor from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico.

The remaining 17,361 acres will be developed by a joint venture of West Palm Beach-based Kitson & Partners, Evergreen Partners and New York City-based Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund, according to principals at the Miami law firms of Akerman Senterfitt and White & Case, which brokered the transaction. The JV purchased the Florida Babcock Co. from the Babcock family investment group for an undisclosed price and sold the land parcel to the state and Lee County.

The $350 million tag for the 74,000 acres equates to $4,730 per acre or about 11 cents per sf. The ranch has been in the Babcock family since 1914 and is considered one of the oldest properties of its kind in Florida.

“In addition to involving many challenging legal issues, this transaction was further complicated by the need to coordinate its many moving parts to make sure they were integrated properly,” says Teddy D. Klinghoffer, an Akerman Senterfitt corporate lawyer and the lead negotiator for Kitson & Partners. He says the deal creates “an historical environmental preserve and will also result in the creation of much needed workforce housing” in Lee and Charlotte counties.

Klinghoffer adds, “With this transaction, the state will acquire a working ranch on the property that will remain in operation. The land will be accessible to the public for camping, biking, horseback riding, cabins and other outdoor recreational activities.”

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the purchase “marks the preservation of the single largest tract of contiguous conservations in the state’s history and also provides a needed water-recharge area for Southwest Florida.”

K. Lawrence Gragg, lead partner at White & Case representing the Babcock family, says “key to the sale was the agreement by Kitson to sell approximately 74,000 acres. The agreement resulted from an important compromise between conservation and development interests.” The deal closed July 31.

Besides Klinghoffer, the Akerman Senterfitt transactional team included lawyers Martin Burkett and Mary Carroll on the corporate restructuring and merger; Donald Duffy and Frank Cordero on the tax issues; and Andrew Smulian and Janice Russell on the real estate side.

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