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Seized land will go to city that U.S. Sugar deserted

Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet agreed to turn over land seized from a drug smuggler to the city of South Bay, which is reeling from the departure of U.S. Sugar Corp.

Chiles and the Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to turn over 173 acres for $1.2-million. The land was seized eight years ago.

The city, which is just south of Lake Okeechobee, plans to use the vacant lot to build 140 affordable single-family homes and a park, and to attract businesses for a planned industrial park.

"We think South Bay got hit an awful lick when the employment was taken out," Chiles said. "South Bay is trying to help itself and that land was very important to them. And we want to assist them in any way that we can."

The city has 20 years to pay; payments begin when development does.

In August, the state agreed to build a 1,300-bed prison in South Bay, whose economy was largely dependent on U.S. Sugar's vegetable subsidiary. The subsidiary's closing left more than 500 people unemployed.

Nearly one in four people in South Bay was without jobs even before South Bay Growers closed in September. The company employed about 1,300 people and was the primary support for the city's tax base.