City Hall plans to give $1.7 million to help the Orlando Magic build a sports-and-entertainment complex downtown.
Orlando officials say the taxpayer money will ensure downtown Orlando gets something it badly needs: conference space.
"If you ask me what I want for Christmas, I would say a four- or five-star hotel connected to a conference center that would give us the ability to bring more conferences and small conventions into downtown," said Thomas Chatmon, Downtown Development Board director.
Orlando has no shortage of space for large conventions and trade meetings: At more than 2.1 million square feet of exhibit space, the Orange County Convention Center is the second-biggest in the country, and there are plenty of hotel conference centers in the city's tourist area.
But downtown Orlando has been without significant meeting space since the city-owned Expo Centre was closed in 2005 and transformed in the University of Central Florida's Center for Emerging Media.
SED Development LLC, a sister company to the Orlando Magic, is negotiating to buy city-owned property across the street from the Amway Center, where the NBA team plays, for $12.7 million. The company plans to tear down the buildings — Orlando Police Department headquarters and a parking garage — and erect a $100 million entertainment complex with office space, bars, restaurants, retail space, a parking garage and an outdoor-festival plaza.
The Magic's plans already include a hotel and conference center as well. But city officials plan to give the developer $1.7 million from a downtown taxing district to guarantee the conference center is big enough. It would be about 40,000 square feet, able to accommodate at least 1,000 people and have meeting rooms for breakout sessions.
"To achieve the specification that we are talking about for $1.7 million, I think that's a great value," Chatmon said.
Downtown Orlando is a hive of business by day. But after the offices close for the day, downtown is dominated by a frenetic nightclub scene of mostly 20-somethings in the wee hours. City leaders and restaurant owners have struggled to bring a more mature, well-heeled clientele to the city's core.
Convincing out-of-town groups to hold their conferences downtown would help, they say.
The tax money would also entitle the city to use the conference space free six times a year, according to a draft agreement reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel.
"This is one of the things we really pushed for and encouraged them to include," city spokeswoman Heather Fagan said.
The tax money has been approved by a city advisory board, but it still requires a City Council vote. The overall purchase agreement with the Orlando Magic is expected to go to before the council Nov. 25.
Greg Lee, an attorney representing the developer, said some details of the agreement are still being negotiated, but Magic executives hope to close on the property in April.
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