ORLANDO-A growing number of hotel owners are lining up to defend tourist tax dollars against development interests pushing to rejuvenate Downtown. They argue that the planned $1 billion new construction and renovations planned for the central business district should be funded with non-tourist tax dollars.

One of the proposed projects is the construction of a new sports arena for Orlando Magic, a venture that could run as high as $500 million, sports industry analysts point out. The basketball team’s lease expires in 2004.

Another undertaking is the retrofitting of the existing, 10-year-old, 18,000 sf TD Waterhouse Centre and converting that asset into a mini Downtown convention center. That idea understandably isn’t generating any roses from the convention bureau folk.

What is ruffling the hoteliers, however, is a recent study completed by the Orange County Comptrollers office showing how much tourist tax money is going to sports ventures. The study notes $90.9 million out of $655 million tax collected in the last 14 years wound up financing the $110 million TD Waterhouse Centre and the Citrus Bowl, promoting football matches, and assisting a non-profit sports recruiting organization. The city still owes $40 million on the building.

An $80,000 consultant’s report in two weeks is expected to show how much of a demand there is for a Downtown convention center. The study may also affect how many other proposed commercial real estate initiatives will be financed.

Hotel interests argue Orlando’s largest owner of commercial real estate, the CNL Group, should be able to fund a new arena and convert the existing arena into a profitable commercial venture by itself, without touching tourist tax money.

CNL is considering purchasing the block-long, Arab-owned Jaymont office/retail building, the Church Street Station entertainment complex, and the Church Street Market retail assemblage. All are Downtown properties.

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