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ORLANDO-March tourist tax revenue of $9.78 million is the highest Orange County collection in the local government’s fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2002, and may hint at good news for area real estate projects. The monthly tax collection numbers are watched closely by hotel developers and investors as a barometer of the area’s industry health. The revenue comes from a 5% tax added to the guest’s bill for each hotel and motel room used.

One Orlando developer watching the numbers closely is Harris Rosen. His planned $28 million, 159,000-sf Rosen School of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida’s main campus in east Orange County is scheduled to open for its first classes in January 2004.

Funding the project–the only one of its kind in the Southeast–are Rosen, $18.2 million; Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, $5 million; Darden Restaurants Inc., $2 million; Walt Disney World, $2 million; Universal Orlando Foundation, $1 million; and Anheuser-Busch Foundation/SeaWorld, $500,000.

County Comptroller Martha O. Haynie notes the March figure is 8.5% below March 2002 levels. “The war in Iraq, coupled with Easter being observed during different months the last two years (March in 2002; April in 2003) may have contributed to the decline in March collections,” Haynie says.

Although March 2003 trailed March 2002, year-to-date actual collections of $47.7 million versus $45.7 million in the first six months of fiscal 2002 were up 4.4%. Those numbers could trigger the long-awaited rebound in the local market, some observers say. “We are hopeful,” Haynie says.

By month, the fiscal year’s collections to date were $7.87 million in February; $7.7 million in January; $6.6 million in December; $6.77 million in November; and $8.63 million in October.

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