|By Dianna Cahn, South Florida
Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Business News
Apr. 11, 2007 - Palm Beach County commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved contracts to build a convention center hotel in West Palm Beach, a project that's been considered a necessity for the convention center's success.
The contracts with Ocean Properties include the long-awaited 400-room hotel, a 104-unit condominium tower, a parking garage and a tunnel all alongside the convention center on Okeechobee Boulevard.
The hotel has been 10 years coming, held up by legal wrangling and delays involving developers, the county and West Palm Beach.
Commissioners voted to approve the more than 200 pages of contracts.
With those now behind them, Commissioner Jeff Koons said he wanted to look at the next phase, to see "what this convention center is going to be when it grows up."
According to the contracts, Ocean Properties affiliates will start construction at the end of convention season next April. The county will pay Ocean $21 million upon completion and Ocean will hold a 99-year lease.
Alongside it, Ocean will build a 1,089-space parking garage and tunnel, mostly paid for by the county. The condos were part of a settlement reached in 2005 with West Palm Beach, which will get taxes off the residential property on county land.
"It's taken a little bit longer than I hoped it would take," Commissioner Mary McCarty said. "Now, let's get this sucker built."
Also Tuesday, commissioners voted 7-0 to use the same rotating list of law firms that represent the county on issuing bonds to also handle bond disclosure services. The county's office of financial management recommended the same firms be used because of their familiarity with county bond issues.
The decision flew in the face of County Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock, who wrote to Commission Chair Addie Greene last week saying she thought hiring bond disclosure counsel was a good idea, but felt it was problematic to use the existing list of bond lawyers.
Bock called for a comprehensive debt policy for the county and asked for a delay on deciding the issue pending further discussion.
The letter met with sharp response from County Administrator Bob Weisman, who said the clerk's opinion was "just that, her opinion. And we disagree."
One law firm shouldn't accumulate all the fees, he said. And, he added, the county is a leader in debt management.
The county did not consider a review by Bock "to be part of her official responsibilities for county government," Weisman wrote.
"Quite frankly, the way we handle debt in this county, there is room for improvement," Bock responded on Monday.
At Tuesday's meeting, Weisman said that out of the top 100 firms with expertise in bonds, seven work in Florida and the county works with six of them.
Dianna Cahn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-228-5501.
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