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ORLANDO-Osceola County commissioners are giving locally based Xentury City Development Co. until Dec. 5 to modify its $30 million, 30-acre land donation for a $100 million convention center and 1,000-room hotel 30 minutes from Walt Disney World.

Xentury City wants the county to use the dirt exclusively for the convention center-hotel venture and not for a non-related venture if the convention center was ever converted later. The commission will make its final vote on the project at a Dec. 9 public hearing.

Commission chairman Paul Owen and commissioner Ken Shipley voted against accepting the Xentury City offer. Commissioners Chuck Dunnick and Ken Smith are sticking with the developer. Commissioner Atlee Mercer, in office only two weeks, holds the crucial swing vote.

As reported previously on GlobeSt.com, an additional concern confronting the five-member commission is the information being distributed by Local 362 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. That group alleges Xentury City’s parent, Xenel International, based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has ties to Osama bin Laden. Xentury City and Xenel CEO Abdullah Ahmed Zainal Alireza vigorously deny having ties to terrorist organizations.

The union itself is not accusing Xentury or its parent of doing business with the terrorist groups responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedies, but commissioners Shipley and Owen are concerned the county could be dragged into a civil lawsuit by families of the 3,000 victims of 9-11, should the allegations against Xenel wind up in court. Shipley and Owen want Xentury City to post a guaranteed bond that would reimburse the county for defending itself against future lawsuits.

Xentury City officials tell GlobeSt.com they would go along with the bond request.

“The bond request is fair, only if they will apply the same standard to all other contenders,” says Susan Lawrence, Xentury’s vice president/marketing. “If not done that way, it would appear to be a biased and prejudicial requirement, based on ethnicity and pandering to a growing anti-Saudi sentiment.”

“We are concerned that the cloud over Xentury City and Mr. Alireza could potentially impact the county’s ability to compete for the widest universe of conventions and tradeshows in this incredibly competitive market,” Neal Kwatra of the union’s Washington staff, tells GlobeSt.com in a telephone interview.

“We are frankly disappointed that Mr. Alireza has not yet cooperated with the Sept. 11 victims’ families,” Kwatra says. “Mr. Alireza has found time to lobby the county via video conference from Saudi Arabia about this $300 million project. However, he has yet to submit to a deposition to help the victims’ families find the truth about DMI Trust.”

Information the union is disseminating alleges Alireza is one of nine supervisors at Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust or DMI which does business with terrorist groups.

“If Mr. Alireza was more forthcoming about what he knows, perhaps we could remove the doubt that lingers about this project,” Kwatra tells GlobeSt.com.

On the bond-posting issue, the union representative says, “With the county’s request of Xentury City to provide a bond against any potential future liability, it seems clear that the county is concerned about exposure to the victims’ families’ lawsuit.”

“It’s a mess,” Kwatra says. “The acknowledgment of that liability also raises questions about the potential public relations fallout for the county’s convention center and hotel, as this lawsuit unfolds and more information comes forward.”

The Mount Pleasant, SC-based law firm of Ness, Motley represents the families of the 3,000 victims of 9-11 in a class action lawsuit being prepared against charities and banks that may have directly sent money to bin Lauden and his affiliates. Ness Motley is asking the county to provide as much information as it can on alleged or suspected terrorist links to the convention center project.

On the union’s suggestion that Alireza is not cooperating with the victims’ families, Xentury’s Lawrence tells GlobeSt.com, “Xentury would feel better if the union and Ness Motley would not make allegations that are pure speculation and innuendo.”

She says, “Xentury has provided the county with all the information requests because we have nothing to hide. The only thing we are guilty of is having shareholders that are of a nationality that is unpopular now in certain quarters.”

Kwatra says “Xentury City’s attempts to shift focus from the facts and place blame on the Union smacks of desperation.” He says, “We routinely do research on new development projects in markets where we represent works, to ascertain the potential impact of the project on the industry and our members.”

Kwatra says, “When we came across this information, we thought it was important to pass it along to the county and allow them to do their own due diligence.”

He says “the county’s preliminary findings indicated that ‘it cannot be established with certainty that funds provided by one or more of these entities may not have found their way to terrorists.”

Kwatra says “the county’s findings are a cause for concern.” He says, “It makes you wonder why the county is taking on so much risk, with all of these unknowns and what-ifs, when there are two other developers waiting in the wings to do this project with them.”On the land donation, Lawrence says Xentury had offered the tract to the county on a fee simple ownership basis, “but asked that the land be returned to Xentury if the county ceased to use it as a convention center.”

Lawrence asks, “Can you imagine 20 years from now, a flea market operating in the very core of a 400-acre, mixed-use upscale development?” If that happened, “every single surrounding property would be damaged.”

“Perhaps there is another way to prevent that from happening,” says Lawrence. “If so, the land issue is not an issue and Xentury would certainly modify its position.”

Xentury owns about 470 acres valued at an estimated $208 million in Orlando’s main tourist corridor, according to a published report.

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