Orange County commissioners weigh in on mayor’s nearly $1B proposal on how to spend tourism tax dollars

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has presented his proposal for how to spend nearly $1 billion in tourism tax revenues.

In a memo sent to the Board of County Commissioners, Demings said he hoped for the board to make funding decisions on Tuesday. That didn’t happen.

The Tourist Development Tax is a 6% tax Orange County levies on each hotel and short-term rental booking in the county. The county collected a record $336 million last year. Phil Diamond, Orange County Comptroller, predicts Orange County will collect more than $350 million in 2023. Diamond also recommended to the board making conservative funding allotments, citing three straight months of declining TDT revenues. Diamond said TDT revenues are "volatile."

"It’s amazing, historically, how fast we’ve experienced the best and the very worst," Diamond said.

The Tourist Development Tax Citizen Advisory Task Force made five funding recommendations out of 52 funding requests. The task force identified improvements to the Orange County Convention Center as its top priority followed by upgrades at Camping World Stadium, the Amway Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, and the UCF Sports Village.

Mayor Demings’ proposal calls for $500 million for the convention center, $400 for Camping World Stadium, $75 million for the Application Review Committee, $5.5 million for arts and cultural affairs, and $440,660 for the Sports Incentive Fund. Demings said funding for the UCF Sports Village and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts could come if TDT revenues end up higher than accounted for. 


His proposal also calls for a "conservative" debt capacity of $900 million spread over a 30-year term. Demings called the term change from the usual 20 years to 30 a "minor tweak." Demings said his proposal takes Diamond’s advice.

"We must live within our financial means," Demings said. "Get the biggest return on these investments and take care of the entire community."

Orange County Commissioner Mayra Uribe disagreed with part of the mayor’s proposal.

"My top number one [disagreement] is the 20 to 30-year bond because that’s $200 million in extra interest," Uribe said. "My number two is financially being responsible for a City of Orlando venue – Camping World [Stadium]. We just need accountability, we just need more data. I don’t think it’s wise to make decisions based on ideas."

Orange County Commissioner Michael Scott agreed that board members should hear from the five groups picked by the task force for funding.

"One thing that I’m clear on is that we as commissioners have not been given enough information to make a well-informed decision," Scott said. "We haven’t been given enough time."

The board decided on a future discussion session devoted specifically to TDT funding where it can hear from each group. That future meeting, as of Tuesday, has yet to be scheduled. Board members did agree that the top priority for funding is the Orange County Convention Center.

The county hopes to finalize its TDT allotments by the end of the year to be done in time for the next state legislative session.