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ORLANDO-Osceola County commissioners and Orlando-based Xentury City Development Co. are continuing contract talks today on the construction of a $100 million, 500,000-sf convention center on Osceola Parkway and International Drive South, minutes from Walt Disney World.

Osceola Circuit Judge Jeffords D. Miller ruled Aug. 8 the 50-member Orlando/Kissimmee Hotel Motel Association can’t interfere with contract negotiations the county is having with Orlando-based Xentury City.

The deadline for the contract signing is Sept. 15. If the county can’t cut a deal with Xentury at that time, commissioners will go to the No. 2-ranked developer candidate, Austin, TX-based Landmark Organization.

Negotiations between the county and Xentury restarted after the 50-member Orlando/Kissimmee Hotel Motel Association sued the county June 28, alleging commissioners erred in selecting the Xentury-designated site instead of Landmark’s location at Osceola Parkway and State Road 535.

The Landmark site would have benefited the small hotel and motel operators better than the Xentury land, the suit maintains. The suit halted contract talks.

The county’s countersuit argued the hotel group had no standing to file the suit in the first place and no special interest in the Xentury City-Osceola County contract negotiations.

The countersuit argued the hotel group was seeking special economic considerations in demanding the Landmark location be chosen over the Xentury site. Judge Miller agreed.

Xentury City and Landmark were not parties to the suits. But Susan Lawrence, Xentury City’s vice president/marketing, tells GlobeSt.com “Osceola citizens would have been poorly served had the decision not been made the way it was.”

Lawrence says “the county has been considering a convention center for a decade or more and this (project) is an important economic driver that will help bring the county’s economy to a new level.”

She says “a group of property owners clustered around the site that did not win, ought not to be allowed to disrupt the normal process of the country government in allowing the convention center to finally go forward.”

The hotel group’s suit alleges the county bypassed local and state guidelines in selecting Xentury City. The commissioners’ unanimous 5-0 vote in May 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.

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