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ORLANDO-FaulknerUSA, a Austin, TX developer, has forfeited a voluntary $1 million performance deposit check to the Osceola County board of commissioners after failing to find financing by the Oct. 1 deadline for the planned $325 million, 450,000-sf Osceola Convention Center near Walt Disney World, 20 miles south of Downtown.

In a letter to Osceola commission chairman Paul Owen, FaulknerUSA president and CEO Mark F. Schultz says the deal is far from dead.

“Due to an unforeseeable change in the perception of the Central Florida market by the external investment community, it is necessary to continue fine tuning the financing elements in order to meet these change demands,” Schultz says.

The commission had extended the initial Sept. 1 deadline by 30 days. “The FaulknerUSA team has continued to work through these changed demands of today’s marketplace and will present a refined (financial) scenario soon for county approval,” the Texas developer says. “In the meantime, all other aspects of the project are moving forward on schedule so that upon funding, we will break ground immediately. I emphasize that this funding timeline adjustment is just that–an adjustment.”

The developer had planned a ceremonial groundbreaking by Oct. 15 to guarantee a March 2006 convention center opening. FaulknerUSA officials expect to break ground in first quarter 2004 and still try to meet the 2006 opening date.

“FaulknerUSA has earned the reputation of being the company that can make developments a reality in the most challenging circumstances,” Schultz says. “We have pledged that reputation, along with an investment as of today of more than $2.9 million. Our commitment to delivering this project for the people of Osceola County is unwavering.”

In a prepared statement, Owen says the county has “confidence in our relationship with FaulknerUSA and their ability to complete the project.” He says FaulknerUSA “continues its commitment to building the Osceola Convention Center. Nothing has changed regarding the momentum of this project.”

The Osceola project, when completed, will compete directly with the 400,000-sf convention center in operation at the 18-month-old Gaylord Palm Resort nearby, industry sources tell GlobeSt.com. However, Terri Dusek, FaulknerUSA’s communications director, disagrees.

“The Osceola County project was conceived to answer the need foro mid-market meeting and convention venue and is not intended to compete with luxury properties such as Gaylord Palms Resort or high-end meeting venues such as the Orange County Convention Center,” Dusek tells GlobeSt.com. “The project’s entire concept is targeted to the market that seeks mid-range, more affordable Central Florida convention option.”

The convention center has been in the planning stage for eight years. FaulknerUSA is the third national developer trying to start the venture.

Developer Robert Miller of Palm Beach also ran into money delays when he tried to fund his planned $1.1 billion World Expo Center in 1991. Locally based Xentury City Development Co. had the financing but Osceola officials bowed to union pressure and terminated Xentury’s contract after union officials alleged the company’s parent in Saudi Arabia had ties to global terrorist Osama bin Laden.

Osceola taxpayers will be responsible for only the estimated $98.5 million hard construction cost of the center. Hilton Hotels Corp. of Beverly Hills, CA is negotiating with the county and FaulknerUSA to oeprate an 800-room hotel adjacent to the convention center. FaulknerUSA is developing the hotel.

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