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Florida Lawmakers Push to Extend Recovery Zone Facility Bonds to Save
 400-room Convention Hotel Project Adjacent to the Palm Beach
 County Downtown Convention Center

By Jennifer Sorentrue, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September 18, 2010 - --Plans to build a hotel next to Palm Beach County's downtown convention center could hinge on the extension of two federal programs that officials say are critically needed to help finance the $110 million project.

Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Burt Aaronson teamed Friday with U.S. Reps. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, to urge federal lawmakers to extend the programs, both of which set to expire at the end of the year.

The first could allow the hotel's developer, The Related Cos., to secure a $51 million tax-exempt bond that could be used to build the 400-room hotel, Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque said. The private activity bonds, known as Recovery Zone Facility Bonds, are part of the federal stimulus package approved by Congress last year.

The second program would give The Related Cos. about $10 million in federal tax credits over a seven-year period, LaRocque said.

"If we don't get this extended, we have a big financial gap," said LaRocque, who has spend months working with Related on project's financial plan. Related representatives said they hope to begin construction on the hotel late next year.

The project is expected to create 360 construction jobs and about 300 permanent jobs when the hotel opens. Its total economic impact on the county is expected to reach into the billions of dollars in a 10-year period, county officials said.

"To me, this is all about jobs, jobs, jobs," Klein said. "That is the most important thing we can do right now."

Extending the programs could help created 133,000 jobs across the country, Deutch said.

"We are going to have an impact not only in Palm Beach County, but all around the country," he said.

Commissioners have spent more than six years trying to have a hotel developed next to the convention center. Tourism leaders have said that without a hotel, the convention center can never compete with other tourism hot spots.

In 2008 county commissioners voted to scrap a deal with developer Ocean Properties to build a 400-room hotel and 104 condo units next to the convention center.

The decision to find a different builder came after federal prosecutors cited ex-County Commissioner Mary McCarty's cozy relationship with Ocean executives as one of numerous grounds for filing a corruption case against her. McCarty admitted last year to taking free resort stays from the company and was sentenced to 3 { years in federal prison.

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

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