Battle over tourist taxes heats up

- Groups eyeing millions of dollars in tourist taxes in Orange County went to the Board of County Commissioners to press their case for a piece of that money, but the board is far from being ready to act.

Of particular interest in the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. DPAC wants $45 million in tourist taxes to build Phase II of their project, a theater that will house the ballet and philharmonic orchestra.  More than a year after telling Orange County they would privately raise the last $45 million they needed to build that theater, President Kathy Ramsberger was grilled by Commissioner Ted Edwards about how much money DPAC needed.

"We've done two, three cost estimates. The last one we were at $205 million, so we are $55 million short," Ramsberger said. 

"If there was some way we could move the Performing Arts Center forward now, and work on the rest of the package, we can get it done, and we can get it done within the revenues projected," said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

She won't be able to count on the city of Orlando and Mayor Buddy Dyer to chip in though.  "The city is not putting more in the pot. We are going to do the financing for the 45 million, but we've already got 214 million dollars into DPAC," Dyer said. 

Enter the tourism community. They're proposing an $85 million spend of tourist tax money on the arts center, science center, and a host of other projects, including operating funds for several arts groups. There is a catch though. The Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association wants the percentage that Visit Orlando gets each year in tourist taxes to be bumped from 22 percent of the revenue to 30 percent. Mayor Jacobs had her staff do a 30 minute presentation on tourist tax needs to show the hoteliers their proposal isn't happening.

"We don't have the money to do the tourism marketing right now," Jacobs added. 

DPAC says if they do not break ground by the end of this year on Phase II, costs will go up by more than $40 million, $20 million in increasing costs, and $22 million in donor pledges that expire at the end of the year. they say it would likely then not be built. We asked Mayor Teresa Jacobs if she could just try to get the money for the Arts Center all by itself without a larger deal?

"Are we going to have the five votes I need on this bBoard to make that happen? I'm not sure yet. This is part of the process," Jacobs explained. 

The Tourism Development Council will hold a special meeting Friday to look at all of the plans, plus talk about whether or not 3 million dollars in tourist taxes should go for trying to lure the Pro Bowl to Orlando.

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