Gov. Charlie Crist stopped by to say "Thank You" today to the South Florida water managers who Wednesday approved his history-making $536 million Everglades restoration land deal.

Crist came to the West Palm Beach headquarters of the South Florida Water Management District to commend the agency's board for approving the deal for 73,000 acres from U.S. Sugar Corp. to be used to help restore water flows from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades.

The deal also includes a 10-year option to buy another 107,000 acres from U.S. Sugar to get more land for the effort to build reservoirs and treatment areas to recreate the "missing link" in the Everglades' River of Grass.

"Thank you for your vote yesterday," said Crist, who championed the deal. "God Bless you for what you have done for Florida. … It will never be forgotten."

Crist in June first announced a $1.75 billion bid to buy all of U.S. Sugar's land, Clewiston sugar mill and other company facilities, but he twice scaled-down the deal due to the state's economic woes.

Crist was in South Florida to attend a hurricane conference. He stopped by the district board meeting this morning, sharing hugs with board members as well as U.S. Sugar Vice President Robert Coker.

The water management district, which leads Everglades restoration, plans to borrow the money for the deal, with South Florida property taxpayers paying off the long-term debt.

The district still must get its bond financing approved for the deal and overcome a court challenge from opponents who question the cost and the value to taxpayers.

Instead of closing on the transaction by September, the new deal may not be finalized until June 2010.

The deal allows U.S. Sugar to lease back much of the land for $150-per-acre for seven years, with the chance to stay on the property for as long as 20 years.

The new terms of the deal provides a "satisfactory" result for a deal that comes amid an "economic crisis," said Coker, of U.S. Sugar.

"We want to sell all of our property (and) this allows them to do that under a phased approach," Coker said.

Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5504.