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ORLANDO-It’s Orlando versus Austin in an unexpected legal scenario started by the little-known, 50-member Orlando/Kissimmee Hotel-Motel Association.

The group has until Aug. 1 to convince Osceola Circuit Court Judge Roger McDonald that elected officials in Osceola County erred in May by selecting Orlando-based Xentury City Development Co. to build a $100 million, 500,000-sf convention center away from its core business district.

The hotel/motel group’s June 28 lawsuit contends Landmark Organization of Austin, the No. 2-ranked candidate, should have been picked for the project because the Texas developer’s proposed site at Osceola Parkway and State Road 535 is three miles nearer to the plaintiffs’ properties than the Xentury location on Osceola Parkway and International Drive South.

Xentury City and Landmark are not parties to the suit.

In his directions to the hospitality group, the judge also ordered the county and Xentury officials to hold off negotiating a formal contract until the association’s lawsuit is resolved.

The county, meanwhile, is filing a countersuit, alleging the hotel/motel group’s complaint is frivolous; should be thrown out; and the group ordered to pay the county’s court costs.

Under the May guidelines, the county has until September to complete a contract with Xentury. If no deal can be struck at that time, the county would start similar negotiations with Austin’s Landmark.

The suit alleges the county bypassed local and state guidelines in selecting Xentury City. The commissioners’ unanimous 5-0 vote picked Xentury largely because of its successful development of the 1,406-room, $450 million Gaylord Palms Resort on Xentury’s 500-acre tract, three miles east of Walt Disney World.

The proposed convention center would be across the street from Gaylord Palms. Xentury also plans to jointly develop a 30-story, 1,000-room Westin or Sheraton hotel on the Xentury tract with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. of White Plains, N.Y.

The hotel and convention center would be the centerpiece of Xentury’s planned $2 billion commercial/retail/hospitality village in Kissimmee, FL, 20 miles south of Downtown Orlando. Xentury initially planned to have the convention center operating by 2005 if it could break ground at the end of this year.

Officials at the Orlando/Kissimmee Hotel-Motel Association couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s publication deadline. Xentury officials declined comment because they are not a party to the suit.

However, Todd Persons, a principal in Orlando-based Massey Persons Brinati Communications which represents Xentury, tells GlobeSt.com his personal view is “it’s a shame that there are fractional groups trying to impede progress because, in their opinion, they somehow won’t personally gain as much.”

Persons says, “While the plaintiffs claim Landmark’s site is better because it’s closer to their businesses, the county, through its unanimous vote (May 13), determined that the Xentury site is best for the county’s economic future.”

Xentury City’s proposal to the county “was the only one of the three submitted that said it would fund the creation of a Convention Center Corridor Group designed to keep business generated by the convention center in Osceola County,” Persons says. “That effort would certainly benefit all county citizens, especially the smaller business owners.”

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