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ORLANDO-Local bookmakers are making this tourist destination the favorite to win out over Tampa, FL and Lakeland, FL as the site for a $30-million, 120,000-sf College of Law building at a newly-planned campus for Florida A&M University. The 13-member Florida Board of Regents will make the selection Friday. The evaluation process has been going on for four months. FAMU wants to open the school in 2002.

The winning city will have the prestige of housing a new academic venture and the commercial opportunity to develop new businesses catering to the initial projected enrollment of 600 full-time and part-time students. In a preliminary point scoring last month, Orlando easily bested its competition, but this time around all factors the university wants in a physical site and surrounding community will be considered.

Moneywise, Orlando has the edge. The city’s total economic incentive package is $17 million versus $11 million from Tampa and $6 million from Lakeland. But the land factor could bump Orlando’s chances at the end, say observers who have tracked FAMU’s building plans for the past year. For example, FAMU is adamant that it needs a minimum of 10 acres to build the law school. But Orlando’s package offers a prime 3.8-acre Downtown site. Tampa is offering 6.1 acres and a former police headquarters building valued at $4 million. Lakeland is offering 25 acres but doesn’t have the bells and whistles in incentives being dangled by Orlando and Tampa.

Since Florida A&M is a predominantly black school, university officials will be looking hard at minority population numbers in Orlando, Tampa and Lakeland. Metro Orlando has 181,685 black residents; Tampa, 214,500; and Lakeland, 184,570.

On the latest cash front, Orlando Magic principals are pledging $600,000 to help launch a sports law study course at FAMU, and the Denny’s restaurant chain is ready to contribute $1 million in cash if the school is built in Orlando. The city values its 3.8-acre site at $5 million and is also throwing in 16,000 sf of temporary Downtown classroom space for the three years it may take to build the law school campus. The city values the 16,000-sf lease at $1 million but is asking FAMU to legally pay only $1 a year in rent.

Orlando is also foregoing $1 million in permits, fees and related construction-filing expenses. Other donations are $100,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency for a streetscape; and $100,000 from the Downtown Development Board for parking costs.

“It’s a package most developers would swoon over,” Robin L. Webb, vice president/managing principal of Arvida Realty Services Inc. in Orlando, tells GlobeSt.com.

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