by Jason Garcia
Updated 6 yearss ago
The home of Hogwarts, Cinderella’s Castle and a convention center the size of the Pentagon, Orange County raised more than $226 million by taxing hotel stays during its last fiscal year.The county’s yearly take is growing so rapidly — 60% since 2009 — that local officials expect to pay off debt years ahead of schedule.
That has set off a political fight over what to do with the extra money.
In April, some of the region’s most influential tourism interests — led by Walt Disney World, and including Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando and the local hotel association — launched an effort to earmark much of the tax money for their industry.
The group called for boosting the share of the tax given to Visit Orlando, the local tourism promotion agency, to 30%, up from about 22% in recent years. That would have meant $70 million for Visit Orlando last year alone — nearly as much as the state spends on its tourism agency, Visit Florida.
The tourism operators also want to spend another $172 million renovating the 7-million-sq.-ft. Orange County Convention Center, $20 million on further renovations at the Citrus Bowl football stadium and up to $5 million annually on a “sports bid fund” to attract major sporting events.
In hopes of wooing local support, the groups proposed setting aside $65 million for a quartet of local cultural venues — $45 million of which would go toward building the second phase of the new Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in downtown Orlando.
The proposal has sparked pushback from others in the community who would like to see a greater share of the tax spent on things beyond tourism promotion and the convention center — which together have consumed $8 of every $10 in hotel tax money over the past decade. Some arts boosters, for instance, have called for significantly increasing the amount given annually to arts and cultural entities around the county.
Joe Kilsheimer, the mayor of Apopka, a small city on the northwest corner of Lake Apopka, is urging local leaders to spend some of the tax to support ecotourism attractions that could draw more air boaters, kayakers, cyclists and birders.
“There is a tremendous potential in the outdoors for growing the large tourism pie in central Florida,” Kilsheimer says.
» SeaWorld Entertainment Chief Information Officer Darla Morse left the company to become CIO of Arby’s Restaurant Group.
» First Green Bank appointed Cary Berman president.Berman had been executive vice president of retail and private banking/mortgages at Iberiabank.
» Ashley Fliehr, an Orlando resident and World Wrestling Entertainment performer known as “Charlotte,” became the first-ever WWE Women’s Champion at Wrestlemania in Dallas.
» Pest control company Massey Services promoted Ed Dougherty to executive vice president and COO. He had been executive vice president of operations.
CLERMONT — South Lake Hospital unveiled a $50-million construction campaign to expand the emergency and surgery departments at its main campus, and build a free-standing emergency department in the Four Corners area and an urgent care facility in its northern service area.The work is expected to be complete within 18 months.
DAYTONA BEACH — Embry- Riddle Aeronautical University named the complex housing its Advanced Aerodynamics Laboratory and Wind Tunnel after U. S. Rep. John Mica (RWinter Park). The facility is under construction.
EUSTIS — Lake Technical College expects to finish work on the Lake County Center for Advanced Manufacturing after the Florida Legislature approved $2.8 million for the project. The center, which is expected to be complete by spring 2017, will provide workforce training in computerized machining, welding and fabrication.
LAKE COUNTY — The county launched a new website, madeinlake.com, to promote local manufacturers.
MAITLAND — The Maitland Art Center plans a 1.7-acre expansion that will include education and gallery space, as well as a sculpture garden.
MELBOURNE — Axyal, a French plastics and composites company, will open its first North American sales office in Melbourne, with plans to expand into a design and manufacturing facility serving sectors such as aerospace, medical, railway and automotive.
ORLANDO — In his annual State of the City speech, Mayor Buddy Dyer said he would focus on expanding mass-transit options, including night, weekend and special event service of the region’s SunRail commuter train and new no-cost bus service for low-wage employees in the Orlando International Airport corridor. The board that governs Orlando International Airport voted to add an $1.8-billion south terminal to its construction work program. The first phase, which would have about 20 gates, could open in 2019.A more than 90,000-sq.-ft. Andretti Indoor Karting & Games complex will be built in the International Drive tourist district.
ORANGE COUNTY — SeaWorld Entertainment plans to stop breeding killer whales in its parks and eventually phase the marine predators out of its collection. Meanwhile, the company’s flagship Orlando theme park will open a shark-themed roller coaster on June 10.
SANFORD — Seminole State College will build a $25-million student services center.
SEMINOLE COUNTY — The Florida Department of Transportation abandoned plans to add higher-priced toll lanes on SR 417.
WILDWOOD — Spanish agribusiness Agromillora Group opened a 34,000-sq.-ft. nursery that includes a tissue culture laboratory, five greenhouses and office space. The nursery will provide advanced technologies and production processes to greening-tolerant citrus rootstocks released from the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Orlando-based Bottled Ocean has developed an artificial reef system for large aquariums that can be floated, submerged or moved, reducing maintenance costs for operators and improving water quality for the sea life. The company’s reefs are made up of individual modules that have their own buoyancy chambers, allowing them to be lifted out of the water when cleaning away algae and other grime. One of the first customers for the system was Discovery Cove, SeaWorld Orlando’s swim-with-the-dolphins park, which has ordered at least 50 of the modules to be delivered in phases through 2017.
Where Does It Go?
Orange County’s 6% tourist development tax has raised more than $1.7 billion over the past decade. Here’s how it’s been spent: