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Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau Reviving
 Idea for $80-100 million Convention Center Hotel

By Tom Stieghorst, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Aug. 19, 2005 - Broward County plans to revive the idea of building a convention center hotel, a project that collapsed the last time it was proposed.

The hotel would likely cost a minimum of $80 million to $100 million. The county would probably be asked by any developer to contribute land, financing or a direct subsidy to lessen the company's cost.

Wrangling over the subsidy was one of the factors that killed an $81 million Wyndham convention center hotel planned by Peebles Atlantic Development Corp. The 500-room hotel was canceled after Wyndham pulled out in 2001.

Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that conditions are more favorable for completing a hotel now, and the need for a dedicated headquarters hotel is growing.

"A number of our existing clients are demanding that capability," she said.

Grossman and County Administrator Roger Desjarlais are set to brief county commissioners individually on the hotel issue at meetings in the next few weeks.

A hotel was envisioned for the center at Port Everglades when it was conceived and built in the early 1990s. Backers say a hotel adjacent to a convention center is a convenience that helps sell events.

Commissioners in Palm Beach County last year agreed after much debate to build a 400-room hotel next to their convention center. The hotel will be developed by Ocean Properties Ltd., with the county paying $10 million for land costs.

Grossman said up to a third of meetings bypass Broward because it doesn't have an adjacent hotel.

But some critics of convention centers say they are overbuilt, and that pouring resources into them amounts to a municipal arms race. Heywood Sanders, a professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio, has labeled the lodging that goes with centers "hotel socialism" because of the subsidies involved.

Even without a hotel the Broward center has attracted more than 30 conventions this year, and the county is enjoying double-digit increases in tourism. But that won't always be the case, some say.

"Things can change very fast," said County Commissioner Ben Graber, who supports building a hotel. "We need to have as many avenues of business promotion as possible to give us an economic safety net."

The leading site for a hotel is a four-acre parcel at Port Everglades to the northeast of the center. Graber said more land might be available, however, if the county can buy out the lease on the nearby Portside Yachting Center.

Developers may also be easier to find than in years past, Graber said. Financing terms for hotels have eased since the late 1990s. "We have some interest from certain larger hotel corporations," Graber said.

In 2001, other hotel owners in Fort Lauderdale opposed the Peebles project because it got a public subsidy. That remains a concern, said Kathleen Southards, executive director of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Lodging & Hospitality Association.

"They should not be receiving tax breaks or free property from the county," Southards said.

The last effort to build the convention center was conditioned on finding an African-American developer. Whether that condition would remain would likely be decided by the commission when it sets ground rules for bids.

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Copyright (c) 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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