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ORLANDO-Orange County commissioners are withholding a $600,000 additional payment request by San Francisco-based O’Brien-Kreitzberg Ltd., the senior construction manager for the half-completed, $750 million, 972,000-sf fifth expansion of the Orange County Convention Center.

The four-year expansion job is slated to open in May 2003. It is the largest public project ever attempted in Central Florida. It is also the most costliest. The exhibit hall-only portion of the expansion is budgeted for $520 million or $535 per sf.

O’Brien-Kreitzberg is being paid $6 million to oversee the work of three general contractors–Hubert, Hunt and Nichols Inc. of Indianapolis, IN; Clark Construction Group Inc. of Bethesda, MD; and Construct Two Group of Orlando.

O’Brien-Kreitzberg’s fee equates to a little more than three-quarters of 1% of the $750 million total construction cost. The general contractors’ aggregate fee is estimated at $75 million or 10% of the total cost.

County commissioners are advertising nationally for a construction-oriented CPA firm to audit the expansion project. The audit is expected to take a year to complete.

Critics of the expansion charge convention center officials and the construction consultants are not following the original work orders and deleting certain phases of the work because of lack of funds. Convention center officials deny the charges and welcome the audit.

The 5% per-room hotel tax, which has generated an average $110,000 per year revenue, is paying for the expansion work. Critics maintain the expansion should be put on hold in this tight economic environment because hotel revenue and occupancy levels have plummted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Hospitality industry experts disagree and say the work should be completed.

“As a 30-year hotel veteran who has operated numerous convention hotels, I can assure you that space must be available in advance, or at least in development, of major meeting and convention booking,” Robin L. Webb, vice president and managing broker, Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL, tells GlobeSt.com.

Webb says meeting planners “cannot take the risk of booking space for a national or international convention seven to 10 years out, only to discover too late to make a change, that the space will not be available.”

The broker/consultant is confident “the current expansion will elevate Orlando and Orange County to a position to compete on the worldwide stage.”

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