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ORLANDO-Number-crunching Orange County commissioners probably won’t receive Christmas cards this year from Orlando Magic owner Richard DeVos or Convention Center Director Tom Ackert. In back-to-back votes, the commissioners rejected Ackert’s request for a $40-million, 260,000-sf annex to the $750 million, three million-sf addition scheduled for completion in 2003 at the existing four million-sf (gross) Orange County Convention Center.

Commissioners also told DeVos they probably could spare a maximum $79 million in tourist tax revenue over the next four years as a contribution to a proposed $250-million basketball court. That promptly killed the new arena idea, as GlobeSt.com reported June 10.

DeVos, the billionaire co-founder of Ada, MI-based Amway Corp., wanted the county to kick in $121.5 million. But with tourist tax collections from tourists and travelers declining for March, April and May, the county’s till is thinning out for commercial real estate projects.

For the past 10 years, the county has been averaging $100 million a year from the 5% tax on its 125,000 hotel/motel rooms. The $750 million phase of the Convention Center under construction is being funded by revenue bonds guaranteed by the annual tax collections.

“If the slowing economy continues to keep tourists from visiting Central Florida for the rest of the year, that $100 million average collection could drop to $80 million or, in the worst-case scenario, to $50 million,” a county planner familiar with the collection process tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

That was the major reason county chairman Rich Crotty and the commissioners slammed the door on the annex project. Another reason was an uncomfortable perception by commissioners that a request for the $40 million in the middle of the current construction period was an overrun on the entire venture, a perception vigorously denied by Ackert and his managers.

“Those guys (construction managers) are fighting hard to show the public they can bring this project in on time and within budget,” an area subcontractor working on the project tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

“They goofed up on the timing of this request for the annex money. They should have come forward right after commissioners got a look at the architectural drawings (in 2000) and asked them for the extra dough then.”

The gross three million sf under construction comprises 973,000 sf of new exhibition space and 170,000 sf of additional meeting rooms. The rejected annex would have added another 36,000 sf of meeting rooms.

A previously published 1999 study, completed by the county, shows it had three sf of meeting rooms for every 10 sf of exhibit halls. The industry average is two sf.

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