|By Adam Playford, The Palm Beach Post,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 08, 2011--WEST PALM BEACH -- Putting a hotel alongside its convention center will pump an estimated $28 million a year into Palm Beach County's economy. But it'll cost taxpayers $27 million now to make it happen, a county official said Thursday, adding that if commissioners opt not to spend, the project will likely die.
Last year the county chose The Related Cos., the developer of CityPlace, to restart the project, which has been bogged down for nearly a decade, by conflict, corruption and a fickle economy.
Since selecting the developer, county staffers have been doing the numbers, figuring out how to make the project work financially, Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque said Thursday in an interview with The Palm Beach Post editorial board.
Their plan: a roughly $100 million, 400-room Hilton on county-owned land just east of the convention center and across from CityPlace.
Related would contribute about $65.7 million, the county would pay $27 million with bond money and the county hopes another $8 million would come through a federal tax-credit program -- money that still must be applied for.
Tourism officials say adding a hotel is crucial if the county wants to draw more business to its $84 million convention center, which has lost millions in recent years.
The project would lift the region economically, LaRocque said, creating 362 jobs during construction and then 300 full-time jobs afterward, adding $28 million per year to the economy.
"If we're going to do it, now's the time," she said. "Given the history of the project, if we don't do this, nobody's going to take us seriously as a partner."
County commissioners will be presented with the plan Tuesday.
"If the board says no, we're basically going to close the books on the convention center hotel," LaRocque said.
Such a hotel is crucial in bringing conferences and tourism to Palm Beach County, said Jorge Pesquera, president of the county's Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"We have a great package in West Palm Beach," he said. "The single piece of the puzzle that is missing is a significant headquarter hotel."
In 2004 the county picked Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties to build the hotel. The plan fell apart amid the housing slump in 2008. Later, Commissioner Mary McCarty pleaded guilty to honest services fraud, in part for accepting free hotel stays from Ocean's owners.
The county sought new proposals from developers and settled on The Related Cos., which built CityPlace and is led by Dolphins majority owner Stephen Ross.
Staff researcher Niels Heimeriks contributed to this story.
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